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Food scandal demands label solutions

Highly trusted brands and retailers find themselves facing a public relations disaster (though not as yet, thankfully, a public health disaster) and the European regulatory authorities stand ready to prosecute the manufacturers at the center of the scandal, forcing the processed food chain to question the practices which have brought such cheap food to consumers at a time of rising raw material and global food prices.

This raises the question of traceability in the supply chain and why it was not implemented across the EU – one of the world’s most highly regulated internal markets. In the case of one of the first contaminated products to be found – ‘value’ beef burgers – the supply chain was found to be hugely complex, with horsemeat sold (quite legally) from Romanian suppliers to dealers in Cyprus via a buyer in Holland before returning to France to be processed into the final product.

Any reader of Labels & Labeling could immediately offer advice around a number of track and trace technologies which could be implemented here. Batch and data matrix codes help food manufacturers search back up the supply chain to identify the sources of any contamination. The laminate suppliers have adhesives designed to stick directly onto carcasses, allowing tracking of meat products back to the abattoir. Remote tracking technologies such as NFC and RFID also have their place in ensuring packed meat products are not diverted down illegal distribution routes.

What is certain is that labeling of the origin of meat and the traceability of processed products will be high on the EU’s agenda this year. It already seems clear that adulteration was not accidental but the work of a criminal conspiracy.

Just as with the efforts to combat counterfeiting of drugs, the labels industry has a key role to play in securing the supply chains of food brands and retailers, and this provides an enormous opportunity involved in this key sector.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Thomas is strategic director of Labels & Labeling.

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