The news has been filled this week with the horsemeat scandal. Guardian Environment is also full of it all but not one piece I’ve read or heard anywhere has even touched on the real issue here.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the thought of eating horse one bit and don’t relish the thought that choice has been taken away from the consumer. I’d have cried for weeks as a child had I discovered that I’d been eating the pony I dreamed of one day owning.
I also don’t relish the thought that medicines have potentially entered the food chain, not to mention the possibility that the horses in question may well have been reared in dreadful conditions, or the funds from the supply may have funded criminal activity or worse. All these things are deeply disturbing in themselves but enough people are already considering them.
No, for me the real issue is perhaps more fundamental. The fact that all this could have been avoided through truly responsible supply chain management.
What we have now is a fire fighting reaction. Quick let’s dispose of the offending products, call in the police to track down the criminals, bemoan the great hurt that has been done to the world at large.
But consider the full chain here.
What we actually have is sheer wanton waste. Waste that affects a whole host of resources from the obvious meat, through to wheat for the pasta, water for all the processes, paper and plastics for the packaging, energy for production, fuel for transportation and on and on…
I won’t dwell on the tragic waste of life of the horses that gave their flesh. I’m not vegetarian, I believe that we are omnivores, but it does break my heart to see a life taken just to be wasted like this.
Large food suppliers claim to be green. They carry out a few supply chain audits with the individuals taking qualifications in audit but in reality they must cover so much ground, so many issues to consider that surely they are doomed to end up focussing on things they know most about. I do not belittle their work, they work within the system that is set for them.
The problem then, surely, is at the top. Has a decision been made that only supplies that are truly understood, provenance confirmed, will be used? If so, how is that implemented?
Does the corporate budget include secure destruction for an assumed percentage of rejected goods? If so, there is an acceptance of failure. An acceptance that this level of waste, throughout the supply chain is just an inevitability.
Do you accept that? It’s time we started to realise the impacts of these kinds of events.
As a consumer it’s difficult to make choices with the level of information that is available. Individuals can choose to buy meat from farm shops, cook from scratch and all these wonderful homely things. I certainly love a quality home cooked meal.
Sadly though not everyone has that choice. Many, many mums out there are counting the coins in their purse, literally, to decide what meal they might be able to put on the table that night. The likes of Tesco and Findus tell us that they care about this, that they want to make mum’s life easier and help to make ends meet. Yet things like this happen and the cost will ultimately end up bound in the price of the end product. Just a penny can be the difference between a meal for the family and a meal for the kids but not for mum or dad, believe me, I’ve seen it first hand.
The big food retailers buy from smaller producers, who in turn buy from other suppliers and so it goes on. That will never change, nor should it. The big food retailers will also put pressure on the suppliers to deliver their commitments to ‘green’ supply chains (see my post ‘Planting Trees in Sand‘) but this is a problem for the collective. Just as resource scarcity, water efficiency, energy efficiency are too.
By making the right decision about what will be provided for the customer, the right decision is also made for the environment. Sustainability is not about switching the lights off. It’s about figuring out what decisions are made that create waste. Ensuring the provenance of the ingredients of the product is just one crucial factor.
So, food suppliers, I ask you this. Do you react to these issues with concern for your bottom line or do you understand that this isn’t just about eating Black Beauty?