FSA director of operations Andrew Rhodes said that retailers’ assertions – post horsemeat crisis – that they would shorten their supply chains are not possible because of the international nature of the food supply chain today.
“Our country is not big enough to shorten supply chains. 50% of food is imported into the UK, so retailers cannot considerably shorten their supply chains,” Rhodes said at the FSA’s board meeting last month.
“Also there are many foods that we cannot produce all year round in this country – we cannot grow strawberries for example, so that will demand length in the chain,” he added.
Rhodes said the focus should instead be on horizon scanning to better understand the complexity of the supply chain and prevent issues like the horsemeat scandal happening again.
Free one-hour webinar
He will be taking part in a free, one-hour webinar on lessons to be learned from the horsemeat crisis at 11am on May 16. More details are available here.
The FSA recognised that the longer the supply chain, the higher the risk of another horsemeat scandal happening became.
But Tesco has pledged to shorten its supply chain after a number of its beef products were found to contain horsemeat. However, it said this would be achieved by reducing the number of links in the chain rather than the geographical distance over which products are moved.
“By shorter [supply chain], we do not necessarily mean that the products we sell will come from the farm down the road. In a global environment, that is not possible,” Tesco group chief executive Philip Clarke told the National Farmers Union. “But we do mean shorter in terms of the links in the chain. If it does not make the product better for our customers, that link will go. Every link puts distance between agriculture and us, so we want that chain to be shorter.”
Hard discounter Aldi, which also had to withdraw products because of horsemeat contamination, is also known to be reviewing its food supply chain.
Meanwhile, Sainsbury disputed the FSA’s claims that shortening supply chains was unrealistic. It said it had been “addressing opportunities” to take out the complexities in its chain for some time.
A spokesman said: “We aren’t making changes to our supply chain as a result of the horsemeat issue because after thorough tests no trace of horsemeat has been found in any of our products.”
Joining Rhodes in our free horsemeat webinar – staged in association with business law firm DWF – will be Professor Tony Hines, head of food security and crisis management at Leatherhead Food Research, and Hilary
Ross, partner with DWF.
To reserve your free place for our one-hour webinar, taking place at 11am on May 16, click here.