What can we learn from the horsemeat hubbub?

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cargill-logoFor more than a month, the news has been dominated by stories involving food products in Europe labeled as beef that have been shown to contain horse meat. The issue, which has now touched all of the large countries in Europe, emphasizes the importance of supply chain management, traceability and ethical behavior.

The first development came in mid-January, when Irish authorities discovered that hamburgers sold at a supermarket chain in the United Kingdom and Ireland contained horse meat. Quickly, other products such as lasagna, shepherd’s pie and meatballs were implicated in a number of countries. A Swedish food company, whose lasagna was shown to contain horse meat, traced the adulteration through its suppliers and subcontractors from France to Luxembourg to the Netherlands, through Cyprus to Romania.

Although horse meat is more commonly eaten in Europe than North America — with Italy, France and Belgium being the largest consumers — this story developed because of the mislabeling of food, which appears to have been done intentionally at certain points along the various supply chains.

Cargill’s meat businesses not involved in the horsemeat issue

Cargill does not sell beef products in Europe. The Cargill Meats Europe business processes and sells only poultry. And Cargill does not export beef from Europe to other parts of the world, either.

Cargill’s beef supply chain is much shorter than those involved with the horse meat situation in Europe. Cargill knows and works directly with our beef harvesters and suppliers, which minimizes the potential for fraudulent substitution of products.

In the U.S., there are currently no federally registered horse slaughter operations.

Although Cargill purchases beef for use in its U.S. and Canadian beef processing operations from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which do have registered horse slaughter operations, Cargill does not purchase from any facilities registered to slaughter horses.

How Cargill processes work to protect consumers

Cargill beef processing facilities, as well as those of the suppliers who provide us raw animal protein, are federally inspected in the country where they are located. All federally inspected facilities are required to adhere to the labeling regulations in the country of origin and the country of destination.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency require that each species contained within the product must be disclosed in prominent form on the product label. When dealing with Cargill facilities that process multiple species, the company has internal segregation programs in place to ensure that labeling is accurate.

Cargill also has a comprehensive raw beef supplier program and completes a thorough review of each of its suppliers. Part of this review includes third-party audits that examine each facility’s practices and internal policies. The company’s supplier approval program requires all beef suppliers to fully adhere to labeling requirements and accurately label all species and ingredients on each product.