Horse burgers and fake fish: What does this mean for CSR?
1 March 2013 -

You’d have to have been living in a vegetarian paradise to have missed the horse meat scandal that’s been spreading across Europe and beyond. It seems that if you’ve eaten any “budget” processed beef within memory, you’ve probably unwittingly eaten some horse as well. Coming hot on the heels of the pony burgers is a new study from Oceana that reveals a whopping one third of all seafood in the United States is mislabeled, either out of malice or pure ignorance. Tilapia masquerades as pricey red snapper, and escolar – a fish that can cause oily, explosive gastric distress – is labeled as tuna.

The food safety issues might not be as apocalyptically horrifying as the ones revealed in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, but it’s evident that our food system is far from perfect. Convoluted, international supply chains mean that it’s easy for fraudsters to game the system. Consumers can’t tell the difference; the deceit is so subtle that it takes DNA testing to tell fact from fiction.

Could there be a silver lining to these scandals? Clearly small, artisanal farmers, fishers and butchers stand to gain from increased public mistrust in Big Food. Yorkshire Meats in the UK and Niman Ranch in the US are examples of humane farmers who have an almost fanatical devotion to traceability. But what about bigger companies? Corporations need to take these scandals as the opportunity to get serious about traceability in their supply chain. Restoring confidence should not be a mere matter of more stringent DNA testing. Proving to consumers that they know their meat and their producers is vital to restoring public confidence. In this regard, companies with strong commitments to sustainability are well positioned to come out on top. Time for Lidl, Tesco and Albert Heijn to get serious about CSR!