A prominent academic has suggested the international food industry was lucky the horsemeat scandal related only to the fraudulent use of an apparently safe raw material. 

Speaking to just-food as the new Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s University Belfast was officially launched, IGFS director Professor Chris Elliott said it was “just by luck” that the food sector did not face an altogether more grave situation.

With food supply chains becoming ever more complex, Elliott believes such a major incident was “bound to happen” and the industry is fortunate that it has not proven, up until now, to be a matter of food safety. “Those people who conduct fraud don’t give any thought to the individuals who suffer because of the skullduggery that goes on,” Elliott said, citing instances where fraudulent food contamination had led to deaths.

Elliott said the food industry now faces a stark choice between simplifying its supply chains or attempting to guarantee full accountability and integrity for supply chains that have become dauntingly complex. He believes the industry is erring towards shortening supply chains.

Tesco has already pledged to source more meat from the UK in the wake of the contamination.

Last week, Stan McCarthy, the CEO of Kerry Group, which supplies chilled and frozen own-label ready meals to retailers in the UK, predicted there will be fewer companies involved in the supply of meat as the industry responds to the recent horsemeat contamination saga.

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Elliot warned a shorter supply chain will inevitably push up food prices but he believes incidences such as the horsemeat scandal underline that “we are now paying the price for cheap food”. Some form of readjustment on the part of both industry and consumers, he said, is necessary.

For further coverage of just-food’s interview with Prof. Elliott, click here.