When you hear about counterfeit goods, organized raids, fraud, and gangsters, food is probably not the first subject that comes to mind. However, an emerging scandal overseas came to light last month, when horsemeat was found in frozen beef burgers at several major supermarket chains in the United Kingdom. As officials sought to find the sources of the contaminated beef products, they discovered a complex web of slaughterhouses, processors, intermediaries__and, potentially, a network of criminals.
This week, BBC News published an article by Tom de Castella and Brian Wheeler titled, “Horsemeat Scandal: How Often Does Food Fraud Happen?” The authors attempt to trace the flow of the recent contaminations from farms across Europe to UK stores, as well as other incidences of compromised comestibles. Food fraud is not a new phenomenon. During Operation Opson, a 2011 sting that focused on ports, airports, and retail outlets in 10 European countries, many tons of fake and counterfeit food products were seized, including tomato sauce, olive oil, cheese, wine, seafood, and candy. In fact, food fraud is becoming quite an attractive enterprise to criminals, says Europol project manager Chris Vansteenkiste, who explains, “Not everyone wants to take drugs, but everyone has to eat and drink.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers of this newsletter that the supply chain behind the recent scandal is complex and difficult to trace. Meat might go straight from the farm to the slaughterhouse to a livestock market; or, it might go to a cutting plant from the slaughterhouse and then to a food manufacturer where it is processed into packaged meals. Imported meat has an even more convoluted chain: “It might have been slaughtered in one European country, sent to another plant, and then processed at a third plant before arriving at a manufacturing plant in the United Kingdom,” de Castella and Wheeler write.
High-value foods, such as organic and free-range products, are particularly vulnerable to fraud__it’s difficult to detect the real thing from regular food, as in the case of an Italian gang that was jailed for selling fake organic soybeans. There is a “large element of trust” when dealing with these food products, the authors write. Likewise, minced beef and minced horse are similar in appearance, and DNA testing is not widespread.
The authors conclude, “No system is infallible, but customers may veer towards products with simpler supply chains in the immediate future.”
Examining complex supply chains
The food supply chain is extremely complicated; and, therefore, vulnerable. It takes skilled supply chain and operations management professionals to mitigate risks and shore up these vulnerabilities. Supply chain risk management is a core component of the APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) program. It states that a supply chain risk management strategy addresses vulnerabilities “by controlling, mitigating, or eliminating risk and mitigating or reducing the impact of risk events,” which include both internal and external threats.
Consider also the APICS Operations Management Body of Knowledge (OMBOK) Framework, which includes a three-step risk management framework for dealing with disruptive risks. The steps include: identifying the source of potential disruptions, assessing the potential impact of the risk, and developing plans to mitigate the risk. The risk plans should include a detailed strategy for minimizing the impact of risks.
Attaining the APICS CSCP designation is one way to demonstrate your ability to manage the complexities of today’s supply chains, including in the food industry. We’re interested in hearing about your supply chain challenges and how you have overcome them. One way to share your story is by submitting a topic for the 2013 APICS International Conference & Expo, to be held in Orlando, Florida, USA, September 29–October 1, 2013. The call for presentations is now open. Visit apics.org for more information.