Over the past few weeks, the United Kingdom and other European countries have been embroiled in a horse meat controversy, and the fallout from the revelation could lead to greater oversight and regulation of the food supply chain in the European Union.
The incident stems from a discovery earlier this year that some low cost beef products were mislabeled and actually contained significant portions of horse meat. In particular, a budget-friendly brand of pre-made beef lasagna sold by the U.K supermarket chain Tesco contained up to 60 percent horse meat, National Public Radio reported.
Although horse meat is safe for human consumption - Europeans every year eat approximately 80,000 metric tons of it, according to BusinessWeek - the issue and rising controversy has caused a public uproar and stores across the continent has been forced to pull beef products off their shelves.
Solve the Issue with Better Food Labeling and Data Gathering Techniques
The issue is not that those in the U.K. and elsewhere were sold horse meat, but rather that companies deceived the public, Stanford University economics professor Alvin Roth told BusinessWeek.
"This is a food labeling issue," Roth said. "Even in France, where they like horse meat, they don't like it if they think they are buying beef. If they can slip in horse meat, then maybe the inspection you thought was going to ensure you were only getting healthy cows is not going on. Not only do you not have cows, you have horses, and maybe they were not healthy horses."
Addressing this controversy and instilling public trust again in the European beef food supply chain will require a two-pronged effort, The Herald wrote in a recent op-ed article. For one, companies like Tesco need to have a more thorough process for reviewing their suppliers and for making sure all parties involved within the supply chain for a particular product are trustworthy and compliant. Data gathering tools like barcode scanning software can help businesses better track products and look into suppliers.
The other problem is that government regulators may need to use better data gathering methods to more accurately track and oversee food shipments, especially since it is now common than ever for companies to source ingredients for a wide array of providers and countries. When the scandal first erupted, U.K. officials said it took them 10 weeks to confirm the horse meat DNA results and that they had not been looking for it since 10 years ago, according to NPR.
"It is now clear that, in the labyrinthine process of taking so many meat products from abattoir to supermarket shelf, traceability has been lost and, all too probably, the door has been opened to fraud," the Scotland-based news source opinion article said.