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For the last 10 days in the UK one of the biggest stories in the news has been the finding of horse meat in a number of UK ‘beef’ products.

Testing by the Irish government on a number of supermarket own brand burgers found traces of horse DNA and another burger was found to contain 30% horsemeat. The burgers were rapidly withdrawn off the shelf and the supermarkets blamed their suppliers. Looking in the news today on the BBC website there is an article about Finders lasagna which has been alleged to contain 100% horsemeat. The supermarkets are now scrambling around to test all their meat products to see what they contain. I suspect this scandal has some way to go as more products are tested and more horsemeat is discovered!

There is another emerging dimension to this scandal developing. Whilst horsemeat is not a health hazard and it is eaten in many countries, there is the issue of the medicinal drugs which are given to horses. Within the UK, the drugs which can be used on animals for human consumption are very strictly controlled to ensure that those who consume the meat are not harmed.  In horses there is not the same control, as horses are not bred for food.  I would suspect when the horsemeat is tested, they will find traces of horse drugs which would not be allowed in meat for human consumption.

This incident will not have, I believe, a great impact on the supermarkets.  As so many of them are involved, then all of their reputations will be reduced, but I suspect most people will continue buying from them.  A few people may turn to vegetarianism, but this incident may in the long term, benefit the supermarkets as people buy more expensive traceable meat.

The companies that this incident may have the biggest impact on will be the suppliers to the supermarket who may have their contracts with the supermarket terminated.  It may not be them who have purchased the horsemeat, they make up and package the burgers for the supermarkets.  They purchase the raw material, the meat, from a supplier or even a supplier’s supplier who has introduced the horse meat into the food chain.

Is this relevant to us business continuity people?

  1. For some of us product recall, product tampering and product failure is part of our job role, whilst for others this is an operational responsibility and the plans for traceability and being able to recall your products is managed by operations or the department responsible. Where we may get involved is the crisis management of the incident.  This is just the type of incident, I think, which should be handled by the organisations strategic/crisis team and handled using an incident plan.
  2. When I teach the BCI 5 day business continuity course, a key theme of the course is that “you can outsource the activity but not the risk”.  So in this case, although it was not the supermarket that put the horsemeat in the burger, it is their responsibility to sort out the issues associated with this.  I think once senior managers understand some of the risks they run with outsourcing, then the business case for outsourcing key activities is not so strong and may be abandoned.
  3. We within business continuity are not responsible for checking the quality of our outsource providers goods and services they supply to us.  Where we can add value within this relationship is checking their business continuity plan. Often business continuity is put in contracts and the suppliers promise the earth but once the contract is in place business continuity is quietly forgotten. Where there are critical suppliers,  I think the business continuity manager, working with the department who is being supplied to, should on an ongoing basis check the supplier is keeping to their contractual business continuity obligations.

However hard you plan for an internal disaster as business continuity managers it is much more difficult to ensure that one of your suppliers do not cause an event which impacts you.

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