This week Dutch authorities are in the process of recalling upwards of 100,000 pounds of meat sold as beef across Europe because its exact source cannot be established and it may contain horse meat.  This announcement comes as the latest development in a far-reaching set of incidents across Europe that alleges that horse meat has been mixed in with other meats and sold as beef across the continent without informing consumers. The scandal led to recalls of products ranging from frozen lasagna to Ikea’s Swedish meatballs.

According to statements from the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, the recall involves meat purchased from two Dutch trading companies and affects 132 firms within the Netherlands with a 70 additional firms across Europe.  The food authority said in a statement that because the exact source of the meat cannot be traced “its safety cannot be guaranteed.” The statement added that Dutch authorities have “no concrete indications that there is a risk to public health.”

The recall covers meat dating back to January 1, 2011, up until February 15 this year, when the companies at the heart of the recall were placed under heightened scrutiny. Obviously, given this wide berth of production, much of the subject meat has already been consumed. A spokesperson of the Netherlands safety agency indicated to The Associated Press in a telephone interview: “If meat has an unclear source then the law — the general food law — says it is no longer fit for human or animal food“.

Supply Chain Matters was struck by the above statement from the health agency that the exact source of the meat cannot be determined. That could imply that the subject beef trading companies could not verify the sourcing links to its beef products, or that the overall beef production supply chain in Europe has motivations to substitute horsemeat as a profit incentive, in lieu of the lack of adequate checks. In either case, it is from our lens, a supply chain problem needing root cause resolution.

Usually, food recall incidents manifest themselves in specific incidents of contamination, lack of hygiene or other issues related to production, transport or storage.  This latest series of ongoing product recalls involving suspicion of horsemeat mixed into supplies of meat for human consumption is turning out to be one of supply chain sourcing, supplier tracing and quality monitoring controls.  It is yet another sign of a breakdown in basic controls with the implication of adding additional risk to food brands and all other members of the supply chain.

We often cite elements of supply chain risk from a value-chain process breakdown lens.  When such risk stems from the presence of required controls within the supplier sourcing process, it should be alarming concern for all food procurement teams. We again cite our commentary published in mid-February that amplified traceability as a key to food safety. As investigations related to the European horse meat scandal continue to unfold and run their course, companies may again discover that traceability and conformance extends to the lowest tiers of the supply chain.

It is not about a primary supplier attesting to product conformity, but the supplier to that primary supplier. The rub often comes when negotiating supply contracts, when the customer refuses to acknowledge the need for added costs to insure product traceability and quality conformance.

Heed the warning signs as they continue to unfold.

Bob Ferrari