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Friday, March 22, 2013

Excuse Me Waiter - There is a Horse in my Soup! (Globalized Supply Chains are an Issue)

Is that you Black Beauty?
What can you do about horse meat showing up on your plate or in your burger? 

A long supply chain means no control of what you are eating.  The recent series of scandals concerning horse meat showing up in burgers, frozen lasagna and IKEA meatballs highlights two of the major problems with globalization.  This is just the surface of the problem.  No doubt there are other things going on we have not heard about yet.  Hopefully there is no soylent green in the food chain yet! (Cultural reference to the 1973 science fiction film of the same name.  Google it. Scary stuff.)

But seriously, when a supply chain reaches hundreds or thousands of kilometres and spans national borders, little control can be exerted even if the buyers are motivated to ensure good products.  A live horse can be sold in Belgium or the UK, shipped to Poland or Hungary and the meat can be resold in Romania.  It can then be relabeled and shipped to France or Spain or Ireland. Then it can be processed as beef and sold in the UK or anywhere else.   

The second problem is that the consumer or final-point-of-sale retailer really has no ability to find out what went wrong or who to blame. In addition, trying for a resolution by suing those responsible can be a tiresome process with limited prospects of success.  And that is just within Europe.   Imagine what happens when the food supply chain runs through China or India.  Good luck establishing responsibility in that case.

Then there is the issue of dog meat entering the supply chain in Spain. Don’t even think about that one...

What can the consumer or small local retailer do about this problem?  The answers are rather simple.
First, if you are a retailer, buy from a local supplier who has a short supply chain.  Your ability to monitor and trust goes up if you have a good view of your local supplier. 

Second, as a consumer, you should always buy food that as closely as possible resembles its original form. If you are buying highly processed pre-made frozen meals, you really have no idea of what that “beef” might be in your frozen lasagna. However, if you buy a pork chop or some ground beef, your own eyes should do a good job assessing what you have.  You can also see the person who is selling it to you if you buy from a local butcher shop.  So again, trust goes up a bit.
The answers? 

Buy locally produced food.

Buy real food that has not been heavily processed.  This goes for both meat and vegetables.  

Both of these choices are probably good for you – in health terms and for your local economy.
This is economics for the rest of us - enjoy that lasagna that comes from a globalized supply chain.  As for me, I have a sudden craving for a nice bag of oats!

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