Horsemeat webinar

Horsemeat webinar: food industry lacks self awareness

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food industry, Food standards agency, Food

Before the horsemeat crisis many food businesses over-relied on contracts to protect their interests, said Andrew Rhodes
Before the horsemeat crisis many food businesses over-relied on contracts to protect their interests, said Andrew Rhodes
Some parts of the food industry lacked basic understanding of how the sector operated – until the horsemeat crisis forced people to grapple with its complexities, a food safety watchdog boss told Food Manufacture’s webinar last week.

Andrew Rhodes, operations director of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), told the webinar – Horsemeat: learning the lessons of an avoidable crisis – on Thursday May 16: “There were some in the industry that professed no idea of the complexities they themselves were involved in. There are lessons in this for all of us to learn.”

Neither was this lack of understanding confined to the food industry. “It has become very clear over the last few months that large sections of consumers, the media and others do not know how the food industry – the industry on which they base their physical survival – actually works,” ​Rhodes added.

He believed greater awareness of the food industry – both among insiders and those outside the industry – would be a key positive legacy of the crisis​.

‘Over-relied on contracts’

In the past, food businesses had over-relied on contracts, he said. “Businesses need to stop just relying on contracts’ buying power to protect their interests. Companies need to bite the very unpleasant bullet of sharing confidential intelligence between themselves and the regulator to make sure these things are properly investigated and properly dealt with.”

Also, scanning to protect against food fraud and contamination should be conducted globally.

“The problem here is not the international dimension: it is the number of steps involved in providing the food,”​ said Rhodes. “Food manufacturers and retailers have long forced their will through the use of contracts and economic pressures. But it is not just about who your supplier is, but about who is your supplier’s supplier. During this​ [horsemeat] incident we saw anything up to six or more parties involved in the purchase and supply of meat for just one product.”

‘Inescapable reality’

Food imports were “an inescapable reality” ​since the UK cannot feed 70M people from its own resources. “The tastes, habits and plans of consumers make that impossible,” ​said Rhodes.

“We already import about 50% of the food that we eat and about 85% of the fruit that we eat is imported so we don’t have resources in this county to feed all the people we have and meet all their tastes and demands.”

Rhodes acknowledged public confidence in the food industry had been damaged by the horsemeat crisis and that the industry had to work together to restore faith in the sector.

There will be more reports from the webinar – sponsored by business law firm DWF – later this week.

Or, you can listen again to the presentations and the following question and answer session here​.

Meanwhile, Food Manufacture’s​ Food Safety Conference takes place on Thursday October 17 2013 at the National Motorcycle Museum, Solihull, West Midlands.

More details about the conference – to be chaired by Professor Colin Dennis, former president of the Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) – are available here.

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