Margareta Pagano: Horsemeat chaos shows shops, like banks, got too big for their boots

Margareta Pagano
Sunday 17 February 2013 01:00
Comments

I had hoped to make this a bank-free zone today but it's just not possible. You see the horsemeat affair has too many parallels with what went wrong with some of our biggest banks to ignore, and both scandals in turn have wider implications for all companies.

Like banks, retailers have been selling things they have pretended to be something else. Replace horsemeat for interest-rate swaps and you will know what I mean. In the case of food manufacturers like Findus, and retailers such as Tesco, Aldi and Asda with their own-label products, they have been packaging and labelling products as beef which are actually horsemeat of dubious origin.

In the case of the banks, sales teams were selling products, such as payment protection insurance or interest-rate hedging instruments, to their customers and passing them off as safe and useful products. As we now know, they had the wrong, certainly confusing, labels and they most certainly didn't contain what was on the packet.

Secondly, and most worrying, is that the bosses of these companies never went out to find out what their staff lower down the organisation or in the supply chain – were actually selling or making. It's astonishing that the senior executives at the retailers and food manufacturers involved don't appear to have had quality control managers who regularly visit all the abattoirs or the farms that supply them annually with tonnes and tonnes of meat. Criminal activity at slaughterhouses or complex supply chains doesn't stack up as an excuse.

There's a lesson here for all industry; don't get too big for your boots or too removed from your roots. Trust is easily lost and tougher health and safety controls will now follow, at a cost. Food makers will be forced into regular, if not minute-by-minute, testing of their products just as pharmaceuticals companies already do using sophisticated sensing devices to test their drug components.

Companies like Siemens, which make this equipment, are already talking about the new business that will emerge post-scandal. Sadly, there's always a silver lining; even if it is made of bute.

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