Ian Thomas Associates

Horsemeat in burgers – a lesson for all food businesses

The revelation that some burgers on sale in Ireland and the UK contain horse DNA has led to a great deal of concern for consumers, regulators and the food industry.

We are told that burgers containing horsemeat pose no risk to human health. Nevertheless this major food incident has the potential to cause long-term reputational damage to the food industry and the individual businesses that have been caught up in the scandal whether through their own actions or the actions of others. In the era of 24/7 global media, a newsworthy story can be accessed in every corner of the world within minutes significantly affecting the already damaged image of food companies and their brands.

At the very least there appears to have been a breach of EU and Irish labelling laws and only time will tell whether formal enforcement action such as prosecutions will follow. In the meantime, stakeholders will need to work very hard very fast to try and repair the serious damage that has been caused by this latest incident and to restore public confidence that all foodstuffs, not just burgers, only contain what is listed on the labels.

Food businesses that have not been embroiled in this latest food crisis should take immediate steps to ensure that if they become caught up in a similar food incident they are ready to react appropriately to protect themselves, their brands and their customers.

Food business operators should review their food management systems to make sure they allow the business to be satisfied about the composition and origin of the foodstuffs they buy. Traceability systems and procedures must ensure that food businesses can swiftly identify their suppliers and their customers and carry out an effective withdrawal or recall of any affected foodstuffs. Deficiencies in the systems they should be remedied immediately. Delays in responding to a food crisis can have long-term, possibly catastrophic consequences for consumers as well as for any business involved in the crisis.

Ian Thomas Associates has substantial experience advising food businesses on many legal and regulatory issues including general food law, traceability and recall obligations. Ian Thomas has helped food businesses engage positively with the regulators to resolve problems and has advised and represented many businesses faced with enforcement action and criminal prosecution.

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