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Hold your horses! Why eating equine is so scandalous

I’ll start this week’s blog with a joke I overheard: A man walks into a burger bar and orders a beef quarter pounder. The counter assistant asks him “Do you want anything on that?” The man replies “I’ll have a fiver each way, please.”

This joke has of course arisen since the revelation that up to 20% horse DNA has been found to be present in beef burgers produced by the company Silvercrest, a part of the ABP Group, which also includes Dalepak. Supermarket giant Tesco has consequently dropped Silvercrest as a supplier citing a ‘breach of trust.’ The horse meat had been traced to a Polish supplier and although the traces of horsemeat were not found to be contaminated, the company was not on Tesco’s approved supplier list.

Tesco were not the only company which used Silvercrest as a supplier of burgers – Aldi, Lidl, Iceland and Burger King were also customers of the meat processor, which produces 20,000 tonnes of burgers every year. As a result of the scandal more than 10 million beef burgers are believed to have been removed from sale and Tesco have now pledged to conduct DNA testing on all its meat products, to regain customer trust.

The importance of auditing

This episode is a salutary tale to all and highlights the importance of auditing and the power of the large supermarkets. Silvercrest have now lost credibility and one assumes a lucrative income in one fell swoop. BRC and other external auditing is ultimately there to protect the end user. If the product components can’t be traced and are untested, then there is the potential to deceive the customer,  produce food labelling which is incorrect and cause potential harm (remember the BSE crisis?)

Our next Supplier Auditing course runs on the 22nd March. It includes the purpose of auditing, including liaison with suppliers and understanding the cost benefits; the audit process i.e. all steps from audit scheduling through to audit reporting; auditing outside the UK; priority, risk and due diligence; and real-life examples of common industry failings. If you’re responsible for auditing your company’s new or existing clients, this course is invaluable. We are currently offering a ‘Buy One Get One Half Price’ offer on this Supplier Auditing course in March 2013. Contact us now or book now online.

Also available through Verner Wheelock Associates is a Lead Auditor course on 23 – 26 April 2013 and Auditing Skills (Internal Auditing) on 20 – 21 June 2013.

How do we really know what we’re eating?

The FSA has admitted that the horse meat filler could have been in the burgers for over a year, which means that, like it or not, the British and Irish public could have been eating horse for some time. Had Tesco not requested the DNA tests, then we would have been none the wiser. Luckily the horse meat was clean and did not contain any veterinary drugs or other contaminants, but this is the danger of using unsolicited suppliers.

The public rely on the food products being sold to them as being safe, being tested and being labelled correctly so that they can make an informed choice. A vegetarian would be horrified to find out that meat derivatives were included in a vegeburger, but not disclosed on the ingredient listing. Similarly, had ‘horse meat’ been listed in the beef burger ingredients, then it’s likely that some people would not have been bothered, whilst others would be in uproar.

Why do we eat some meat but not others?

But why are we so averse to eating horse when we are quite happy to eat sheep, pigs and cows? After all, being brutal about it, they all provide meat, and horses are widely consumed on the continent. Pigs are in actual fact more intelligent than dogs and yet we don’t flinch about eating sausages, pork or bacon.

It’s most likely because of the bond formed between humans and horses – they are deemed to be beautiful, intelligent creatures that allow us to put a saddle on their back and ride them. Those who own or ride horses are passionate about them. In fact in terms of a foodstuff they are in the same league as pet dogs or cats or rabbits – although rabbit is sold in butchers in this country a pet bunny owner couldn’t bear to eat one.

It’s all about food safety and customer choice and that’s why regular auditing is so important. At the end of the day you need to be confident that the food you supply is safe, legal, traceable and accurately labelled.

Coming soon!!

New course on labelling – ‘Creative Legal Labelling – Using your label to enhance your product legally’

Watch this space for further details.