Few lessons have been learnt from the horsemeat crisis, claims new research commissioned by supply chain consultancy Achilles, as an influential committee of MPs urged retailers to buy more local food.
More than 80% of large UK food manufacturers report the scandal had made no difference to how they manage information about their suppliers, according to the report published yesterday (January 15) – the anniversary of the discovery of the first UK contamination.
Also, many food manufacturers still do not know exactly who is in their supply chains, according to the research carried out by independent consultancy IFF. Food businesses have less confidence in suppliers lower down the supply chain, with the lowest confidence of all in overseas suppliers in emerging markets.
Adrian Chamberlain, chief executive of Achilles, said it was worrying that most large food manufacturers were still struggling to improve information about their suppliers after the horsemeat scandal.
“A key aspect of the incident was that it took several weeks for food companies to map out the supply chain and establish which businesses had received counterfeit meat,” said Chamberlain.
“One year on, and we believe food manufacturers may still be open to experiencing similar issues, because only a minority have overcome the complex task of mapping out their supply chains to establish exactly who supplies who.”
The food industry is reliant on an increasingly complex and globalised supply chain, as revealed by the horsemeat scandal, where counterfeit meat originated in Romania, he added. But this research revealed food manufacturers have far less confidence in suppliers from the second tier and below. There was even less confidence in the produce of suppliers in emerging markets.
“Despite this, the vast majority of food and drinks manufacturers said they were ‘very confident’ in their ability to manage supply chain risks,” said Chamberlain.
He described the prevalence of paper records to monitor suppliers as “surprising”, bearing in mind manufacturers’ responsibility to workers producing ingredients, families consuming products and shareholders.
‘Another horsemeat scandal’
“We believe food and drinks manufacturers should act proactively and implement a single, coordinated system to manage information about all suppliers across the world and map their supply chains – before another horsemeat scandal,” said Chamberlain.
Read why Chamberlain fears allegedly “complacent” food manufacturers could spark another horsemeat crisis or similar food fraud here .
Meanwhile, Anne McIntosh, chair of the influential Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said: “Retailers still need to work on smaller supply chains. By buying local we can more likely trace all sources of our food.”
McIntosh also called for more food analysts to undertake food testing.
No prosecutions have followed in the wake of the crisis that cost the UK food industry millions of pounds and shook confidence in the sector.
Tim Lang, professor of food policy at the City University, London, said the government should have done more to improve confidence in food supply chains. “The government has done nothing and consumers are showing a benign weariness about horsemeat,” Lang told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
The main beneficiaries of the crisis appeared to be independent butchers, he added.
The first report of the government-commissioned Elliott Review recommended last month setting up a Food Crime Unit to combat food and drink fraud.
• 82% of food and drink manufacturers said the horsemeat scandal had not affected the way they manage information about suppliers.
• More than 50% of manufacturers have less information about their second level suppliers than first level suppliers.
• 40% of manufacturers have never mapped out their entire supply chain to find out exactly who all their suppliers are.
• More than 50% of manufacturers rely on paper records to manage information about suppliers across the world.
• Fewer than a quarter of food manufacturers said they were ‘very confident’ suppliers in emerging markets would continue to adhere to health and safety responsibilities.
• More than half (60%) of food manufacturers said they were ‘very confident’ that the way they manage their supply chain allows them to manage risk effectively.