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Revisiting the horsemeat scandal and how technology can reduce food fraud Listen with ReadSpeaker Our expertise

The horsemeat scandal in 2013 was one of the biggest threats to food safety in recent history and exposed the vulnerability of supply in the food industry. To recap, the incident was when meat from horses entered the supply chain as beef and ended up being sold in many products across Europe and beyond.

It affected supply chains and led to millions of products being withdrawn. In some cases, as much as 100 percent of the meat content were found to be counterfeit. It affected retailers, food manufacturers and the meat industry while causing a huge loss in consumer confidence for many global food brands. 

  • Horse meat is found in tesco burgers

    This event is an example of how food fraud deceives unsuspecting consumers by providing them with lower quality foodstuff and can lead to serious implications on food safety and the health of consumers.

This event is an example of how food fraud deceives unsuspecting consumers by providing them with lower quality foodstuff and can lead to serious implications on food safety and the health of consumers.

The risks for consumers in such an incident run across various aspects, including the health/wellbeing of the consumer, religious beliefs and, most important of all, consumer trust. Another danger is not knowing if the meat has been contaminated with illegal pharmaceuticals like phenylbutazone, which is banned from human consumption.

 

Other past incidences affecting global supply chains include the use of melanin in milk powder, adulteration with methanol in alcoholic beverages and beef comprising clenbuterol.

Within days of the news of the horsemeat fraud, more than ten million burgers were removed from supermarket shelves by retailers in Europe. Sales of frozen hamburgers fell by more than 43 percent and frozen ready meals by 13 percent from levels before the scandal. Beyond the drop in sales, for businesses and the industry, the fallout can include loss of brand credibility, economic affectation caused by unfair competition and the loss of market share. Understandably, this led to a drastic fall in consumer confidence in supermarket products. A market report on the incident found that six in ten consumers had changed their shopping habits with 30 percent of consumers buying less processed meat and 24 percent choosing vegetarian ready meals instead of meat ones.

 

When the scandal broke, no one was quite sure who was responsible for dealing with it as authorities and law enforcement agencies were not prepared for it. But now, this has been addressed with the Food Standards Agency and police forces linked with food safety authorities across Europe to respond in the event of such calamities.

Technology solutions to keep food fraud at bay

Although the task to prevent food fraud is an ongoing challenge, there are numerous technologies available to help businesses address this risk. One of the leading methods is the use of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) applications to support food authenticity processes. 

There are various NGS platforms available with different properties such as sequence read length and output suited to different analyses. As they continue to be developed and refined to a wider range of industries, NGS may become a key tool for regulatory compliance and reputational protection.

One such tool is Thermo Fisher Scientific’s NGS Food Authenticity Workflow, a solution for verifying and authenticating products for improved traceability and food safety. It helps to screen food samples against an extensive database of meat, fish and plant species, including exotic variants, gives accurate detection and differentiation of expected and unexpected species.

Julien Pastor

About the author

Julien Pastor is the new Director, Business Development, Food & Beverage, Business Unit Technology. Julien brings with him 14 years of relevant working experience across industries such as Food & Beverage, Veterinary, Pharma and Biotechnology. Julien ran his own consulting business with focus on food & pharma lab solutions creating digital content on YouTube and LinkedIn for global clients. Before that he held different regional positions at Becton Dickinson, Qiagen and BioMerieux and was the Chief Commercial Officer for Argolight.