Learning the food safety lessons from ‘horsegate’

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety Food

Solving a meaty problem:The Food Manufacture Group's one-day conference – ‘Learning the food safety lessons from horsegate’– will take place at the National Motorcycle Museum on Thursday October 17
Solving a meaty problem:The Food Manufacture Group's one-day conference – ‘Learning the food safety lessons from horsegate’– will take place at the National Motorcycle Museum on Thursday October 17
The horsemeat scandal, which continues to plague the food supply chain, has severely damaged consumer confidence in the industry’s ability to regulate itself and will have major implications for the way food safety is regulated in the future.

These issues will be examined in detail at a new conference being planned by the Food Manufacture​ Group. The one-day conference – Learning the food safety lessons from horsegate’​– will take place at the National Motorcycle Museum on Thursday October 17.

Not only has ‘horsegate’ thrown into doubt the food industry’s and inspectors’ ability to pick up fraudulent activity through their monitoring and traceability regimes and systems, it has raised questions about plans by regulators to move to a more risk-based inspection regime.

Under plans being considered by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), manufacturers with a good food safety record would be subject to fewer food safety inspections in a process known as ‘earned autonomy’. However, doubts have been raised about the public’s willingness to accept such a move following the horsemeat scandal.

While initial food safety fears about the risks of veterinary medicine phenylbutazone (bute) in the horsemeat contaminated beef products proved unfounded, questions have been raised about the risk of foods contaminated with dangerous chemicals and pathogens that might pose a far more serious health risk.


‘Learning the food safety lessons from horsegate’​ will investigate recent serious instances of adulteration and mislabelling, and discuss why existing traceability systems failed to pick up the problem. It will discuss what lessons can by learned for other incidents of contamination of foodstuffs which pose a food safety hazard. How, for example, do we minimise the chances of another sudan 1 dye or melamine in milk contamination incident – or even a large E.coli O157 ​outbreak?

The conference will be chaired by Professor Colin Dennis, former director general Campden BRI and former president of the Institute of Food Science & Technology. Opening the day will be Sue Davies, chief policy advisor for consumer watchdog Which? who will discuss what damage to consumer trust has been caused by horsegate and how this can be regained.

In view of the tough economic climate in which budgets are being cut, a speaker from the FSA will describe the effect of the crisis on the future regulatory environment and inspection regimes on food business operators. This will be followed by Mark Woolfe, a former authenticity expert at the FSA, who will explain why the testing regime fell down in the case of horsemeat and suggest how similar attempts to pass of inferior ingredients can be avoided in future.

British Retail Consortium technical director David Brackston will explain how third-party food safety audits can provide reassurance about the integrity of the food supply chain in light of the horsemeat scandal.

Crisis management

In a session dealing with limiting the damage of product recalls, Professor Tony Hines, head of food security and crisis management at Leatherhead Food Research, will describe the latest thinking on crisis management: identifying where problems are likely to occur and mitigating their impact when they do. Legal expert Dominic Watson from DWF will highlight real cases where product recalls have been handled well – and where they haven’t.

A further session will examine the human dimension and include presentations examining how to establish a good food safety culture in the workplace.René Crevel, science leader, allergy & immunology with Unilever will discuss the latest thinking on allergen controls and thresholds.

Completing the day will be a presentation discussing how the emergence of social media has affected the way food safety incidents are handled and a final presentation on the use of computer-based traceability systems by Patrik Sjöberg, product director from computer systems specialist Infor.

  • Learning the lessons from the horsemeat crisis will also be the subject of a free one-hour webinar to be staged at 11am GMT on May 16 by the Food Manufacture​ Group in association with business law firm DWF. More details are available here​.

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