In February 2013, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) conducted a major study into fraud with horse meat. The case also led to the Netherlands. The horse meat fraud was widely reported, in part because a very large amount of meat (50 million kilos) was recalled because its origin was uncertain.
Following this and other incidents in the meat supply chain, the Dutch Safety Board conducted an investigation into the risks in the meat supply chain on request of the State Secretary for Economic Affairs. The investigation was aimed at identifying safety risks in the meat supply chain and the extent to which public and private parties are successful in controlling the risks in accordance with best practice. The emphasis of the investigation lay firmly on deficiencies that have an effect on food safety.
The Board finds that the retreat of supervision was premature because the meat industry is not yet ready for the intended private regulation. There are many different parties and unity is lacking. Many are not willing to guarantee food safety without some external incentive, and the capacity of the industry to organise itself and cleanse itself is low. This is in part due to the fact that many businesses in the industry can operate anonymously as far as the outside world is concerned. For them, market discipline (reputational damage and loss of custom) scarcely provides any incentive to better control risks. For these businesses, it is often more beneficial to stay out of self-regulation systems and to rely on inspections by the NVWA. Although supply chain quality assurance systems with food safety aspects have been introduced in parts of the meat industry in recent years, they have so far merely created paper-based safety. Most partners in the chain blindly rely on certification and do not perform checks of the actual situation. Certification bodies are financially reliant on the businesses they certify. Private enforcement within the supply chain systems is weak. Businesses have the intention to strengthen private enforcement and unity across the meat industry through the Food Confidence Task Force set up by government and the industry in 2013. The Board observes that measures are primarily focused on food integrity and not on other aspects of food safety, such as hygienic operations. Throughout the investigation, the Board encountered on several occasions the view of food business operators and by supervisors that meat produced in or imported to the Netherlands is safe. They then refer to the relatively low numbers of people that are admitted to hospital or die as a result of eating meat. The figures give an incomplete picture of the actual number of people falling ill from consumption of meat. Yet even if the number of victims is low, it is unclear whether this is due to the safety measures taken or, for example, due to consumers heating their meat properly. As long as we have no reliable statistics on the number of illnesses, there is no reliable way to check how safe the meat is that makes its way to consumers’ plates. This means that we are missing an important source of feedback to improve the safety of meat. Without any understanding of the consequences of their actions, businesses will be less likely to change that behaviour voluntarily.
Wednesday March 26, 2014/ Onderzoeksraad voor Veiligheid/ Netherlands.