‘Fox meat’ scandal shows importance of supplier due diligence, says Eversheds

Richard Matthews, head of product liability at Eversheds, has commented on the recall by Wal-Mart in China of donkey meat found to contain fox meat.

He said: ‘January is the anniversary of the horsemeat scandal making headline news across Europe. The scandal lasted several months and affected many of Europe’s largest food retailers and manufacturers, causing tens of millions of pounds in written-off product and far more in reputational damage.’

Matthews added that there have been a number of arrests across Europe for violations of food safety law and the scandal has identified food fraud as an emerging issue, with allegations that beef was deliberately mixed with horsemeat to increase profits.

‘In the wake of the scandal, many food businesses have introduced tighter controls over their suppliers,’ he said. ‘The last 12 months has seen greater focus on due diligence, transparency and traceability across the supply chain, with many companies emphasising the importance of provenance and local sourcing in an attempt to rebuild consumer confidence in their brands. Although the reduction in the number of suppliers and the length of supply chains has started in the meat sector, food businesses understand that the issue is of far broader application.’

According to Matthews, the unusual circumstances of the ‘fox meat’ scandal in China are unlikely to be replicated in Western Europe. ‘However, it illustrates the importance of supplier due diligence and the vulnerability of multi-national businesses of damage to their reputation, even in markets where the regulatory frameworks and consumer expectations may be less well developed,’ he said.