Supply Risk Meets the Horse’s Ass

Horse does not taste like chicken -- as some British consumers have recently found out. Before I go into the details of that discovery, let me disclose my own love affair with horse hide (aka cordovan) shoes.

After walking a few miles in my shell cordovan shoes yesterday morning (more on my mini-obsession here, I probably should not be complaining about the use of horse products when it comes to human usage and consumption (before anyone calls PETA on me, I will say that they are the best-wearing shoes ever -- in fact I own five pairs, each at least two years old and the oldest, having been resoled probably a dozen times, dates back almost twenty years).

Partly because of this durability, I've made a conscious choice to put horsehide on my feet for my entire adult professional life. And yes, for those so inclined to ask, they do come from the derrière of said animal.

"Pass the ketchup, dear!"


Unlike my circumstances (on which I've literally voted with my own two feet), thousands or more residents of the UK and Ireland have not had a choice about, in their case, consuming horse products. The LA Times recently covered the story:

"A new report from Republic of Ireland food safety monitors has shown some burgers sold in Britain and Ireland that were billed as beef contained a mouthful of horse meat ... The horse DNA – found in almost one-third in one sample, according to Ireland state broadcaster RTE – is a surprise not only for the burger consumer but also, apparently, for those providing the product."

In other words, the retailers involved in the scandal, including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and the Co-op, were unaware they were being provided a ground beef product that contained horsemeat. Is ignorance bliss? Not at all. In fact, this scandal represents a trifecta of poor and rampant supplier management practices.

First, it shows a lack of validation and testing for ingredients and supplier compliance. Second, it potentially shows a lack of broader traceability in the supply chain including country of origin (which is all the more surprising considering the Mad Cow epidemic previously in Britain). After all, if you're tracing bovine inputs at the unit or lot level, how could one sneak in a little horsemeat and get away with it? And third, it shows a general willingness to play dice with customer safety and loyalty as a result of nonexistent or lax supplier oversight and general auditing.

But this scandal is more than just a combination of retail and supply chain incompetence -- supply risk truly manifesting itself as the horse's ass. I can almost hear Fat Bastard's "get in my belly" refrain as I think about chowing down on the stuff as a dare -- no comment on whether the Scots are happy to be eating horse meat or not, as it might be an improvement on haggis, among other regional "delicacies."

On a more serious note, the scandal is representative of an epidemic of improper traceability, certification and vendor management programs among retailers and other companies alike. British and Irish consumers and the government deserve to be up in arms after buying horsemeat unknowingly. After all, next time, perhaps a failed supplier management program such as this could result in not only putting a taboo product (by UK and US standards) on the shelves, but something far worse could make its way into products -- causing not only contamination, but disease and even death.

My colleague Thomas Kase adds that horsemeat is quite delicious -- it is a dish he was served while living in Japan. There it is sold under the name "sakura" and according to him it is both lean and tasty -- definitely does not taste like chicken. National Velvet and War Horse aside, if we can eat cow, pig, sheep, lamb, and all sorts of four-legged game, what's wrong with horse burger, at least if we eat it knowing that Mr. Ed's great grand son is on the fork? Food for thought.

In the meantime, we suspect that Heinz and other ketchup providers will see a spike in sales. You know, to cover up the barnyard funk and all.

- Jason Busch

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