Horsemeat Scandal in Professor Elliott’s Review

Introduction / Background

In 2013, adulterated convenience foods such as lasagne and meatballs containing horsemeat instead of being made from beef were found in food chains in the UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, Sweden, Cyprus, and several other European countries. The products were supplied to the British supermarkets by Tesco and Iceland companies (van der Meulen et al. 2015). The European Commission also noted that the investigated samples of adulterated food did not pose an immediate threat to human health.

Therefore, the case is classified only as a fraud with the substitution of product labeling. In France, for example, horsemeat is not eaten, and in the UK, its use in food is punishable by law. According to British media reports, in eight out of every 200 horse carcasses, experts discovered the drug phenylbutazone. The drug is banned in most European countries since scientists consider that it contributes to the formation of malignant tumors (Bourguiba-Hachemi & Fathallah 2016). In this connection, the European Commission called for the detailed review of the existing bodies and policies that regulate food chains, thus providing recommendations for the prevention of such cases.

The rationale for Choosing Two Pillars, Gaps and Opportunities

Zero tolerance and leadership pillars of food integrity are selected for this paper due to their great potential to positively impact the future of food crime prevention in the UK and Europe in general. While Elliot focuses on eight pillars, including intelligence gathering, consumers’ first, and laboratory services, they seem to be supplemental to the two mentioned above. In combination, strong leadership and the zero-tolerance principle are likely to significantly enhance the regulation of the food market via relevant strategies and punitive measures for even small yet deliberate illegal actions in this sphere.

One of the most significant reasons for selecting the identified pillars is that they aim to create an industry culture that will be free of food crime based on timely detection and reporting. Agencies and other bodies may issue punitive measures, yet the staff is the key actor in preparing, packing, and selling food. Therefore, it is of great importance to focus on the creation of a safety culture, in which every employee, manager, and employer will feel responsible for his or her actions that affect customers.

Zero tolerance is widely adopted by food chains, but it is important to strictly follow this pillar. Understanding the risk of complicity, the industry culture creation, cooperation promotion, and support along with education compose the core of this pillar. According to Elliot, the paramount idea of the content of zero tolerance is to clarify that people, both workers, and customers, need to understand what they eat and how foods are produced (HM government 2014). The provision of guidance for those who design laws and those who are directly involved in the production is essential to address the specified need. For example, the development of whistleblowing and rewarding strategies for procurement policies are assumed by the review to reach better industry commitment.

The pillar of leadership integrates such components as law enforcement effectiveness, the balance between local, regional, and national regulation, and special food crime units. Elliot states that there is a need for making leadership much more clear by developing standards for reporting and leading the preventive work (HM government 2014). The public interest should be put in the core of leadership, and the Food Standards Agency should coordinate the implementation of strategies and policies as the principal organization.

The current gap regarding zero-tolerance initiative that is critical lays in the limited resources and insufficient awareness of the local law enforcement agencies. Another gap is associated with the disengaged work of various bodies, which creates additional difficulties in implementing new policies and monitoring them. One should also stress that the principle of non-complicity should be assigned a top priority.

For some employees, it may seem better not to report due to the fear of being accused of food adulteration or other food crimes. As for leadership, the main gap is a lack of food integrity ensuring, even though some guidelines were developed. It may be challenging to poise local and national requirements since insufficient resources may impede their work. While there is no vigorous balance in the industry, customers seem to be at risk of purchasing adulterated meat products. Because of the presented gaps, it becomes evident that the corresponding opportunities should be used to eliminate gaps.

The opportunities that may be used to improve the situation with food fraud and food crime may be integrated for both zero tolerance and leadership pillars. Since the latter are closely related, their combined implementation seems to be the best solution possible. First of all, educative and advisory work may be targeted as a way to increase the capability of law enforcement officers, agency workers, and managers to meet and recognize the cases of food crime (Brooks et al. 2017). The continuous improvement of the system should be regarded as one of the key roles to successfully prevent food-related misconduct.

Second, trust creation is the opportunity that includes public opinion concerning the regulatory body (Falkheimer & Heide 2015). For example, special advisors may be assigned the role of consultants who review the work of one or another body to avoid corrupt practices and negligence of suspicious events. Besides, the open dissemination of information on the progress made and plans seem to be a way to convince the public in the fact that the government takes steps to address the given problem. Third, the establishment of a new Food Crime Unit has the potential to unite all the efforts on food crime elimination.

Implementation of Chosen Pillars and Their Integrated Work

Evaluating the implementation of the zero-tolerance principle, it is important to note that the industry actors became more aware of prosecution and potential damage to their business if the new requirements are not met. While previously some cheating was accepted as normal of it was meeting the moral boundaries, today, testing programs allow monitoring even minor deviations (Food fraud and the integrity of the food system 2016).

Both law enforcement agencies and customers are equipped with tools to check the production of meat products. A vivid example of the implemented zero-tolerance principle is the case of Peter Boddy, who was fined for £8,000 selling horse carcasses without making proper records (Smith 2015). The author reports that no evidence may prove that this person tried to sell horsemeat as beef, yet the documents and rules were violated, which creates the room for food adulteration.

Even though some progress in addressing the problem with the meat industry in Europe is evident, there are still fraudsters that want to receive additional profit. The study by Brooks et al. (2017) illustrates that zero-tolerance requires responsible persons to pay attention to excessively cheap products and verify their content. Such an approach seems to be justified and promising in making the industry free of food crime. However, other food industries still work with some gaps in tolerating a duplicitous strategy if it meets normal boundaries.

The experts and local authorities engaged in this problem cannot agree on the common testing, and the issue is complicated by the need for financial support from the government. Bodkin (2016) warns that there is a threat to the second horsemeat scandal due to a lack of routine screening in the UK. This demonstrates that the pillar of leadership was not effectively introduced, and there is a need to build on the opportunities stated in the previous section of this paper.

The role of power asymmetry in terms of leadership is discussed by Madichie and Yamoah (2017), who state that it largely affected the scandal emergence in 2013 and continues to be critical. The difference in the status of various participants of meat products production gives them unequal ability to take action. In particular, self-interest and unwillingness to cooperate are the key issues identified by the authors.

While there was no particular body accountable for food fraud, the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) was put within the Food Standards Agency (FSA) (Barnard & O’Connor 2017). The role of these bodies is to focus on promoting more enforcement through intelligence analysis, investigations, and response to fraud (The horsemeat scandal: progress made 2015). In other words, essential steps were made to strengthen leadership.

Nevertheless, it should be pinpointed that “a £900,000 annual budget (as opposed to £2-4 million per year as recommended by The Elliott Review)” (Brooks et al. 2017, p. 8). In this connection, further enhancement of pillars proposed by Elliot should be considered. The two discussed pillars should be integrated into a systems approach to make the response and prevention of fraud more comprehensive. The rationale for such a decision is to take into account various interested parties and moderate one pillar through another, making the efforts informed, timely, and evidence-based.


For the UK, further development of policies and actions is required, and government, regulators, and industry should be actively working towards encouraging leadership and zero tolerance. The implementation of food safety control measures may be achieved by horsemeat DNA routine testing, appropriate labeling, and horse passports. One should recommend the leaders to empower officials to conduct regular verifications and encourage employees to provide whistleblowing (Levitt 2016).

The related recommendation refers to the role of procurement, which should also be regulated by the FSA and its branches. The supply chain management needs to become transparent, and its standards and conditions should be checked periodically (Stadler et al. 2016). This advice is likely to be useful for both pillars examined in the previous sections. Besides, it is significant to initiate and fund projects on food authenticity.

The resulting findings should be disseminated to all the bodies, officials, and suppliers interested in the meat industry (Wood & Lawrence 2014). It will be beneficial for businesses to meet the requirements and remain competitive and competent. The key idea is to prevent another horsemeat scandal rather than make efforts to eliminate its consequences.

This scandal revealed the imperfection of the product labeling system in the UK and Europe. It seems that the lawmakers should demand more from manufacturers as customers have the right to know not only what meat is contained in the finished dish, but also where and how it was produced (Sarpong 2014). Technologies for applying detailed markings already exist, yet they are not completely adopted in the food industry.

For example, using the F-Trace system, a consumer could track the entire product life cycle on the Internet, from farm to supermarket; however, only under the condition that the product is manufactured and sold in Germany (Sarpong 2014). If international companies in the pursuit of profit purchase meat in Ireland and them for example, in Cyprus, it is difficult to verify the origin of the products. Therefore, leadership should encourage manufacturers to develop new technology, thus contributing to the transparency and appropriateness of food production processes.


To conclude, this paper explored such two pillars assumed by Elliot’s review of the horsemeat scandal of 2013 as zero tolerance and leadership. It was revealed that both recommendations were formulated based on thorough research on the causes of conflict. While the zero-tolerance principle strives to eliminate even minor violations of the industry requirements, and some progress was achieved, suppliers are still should be controlled concerning food fraudulence and food crime. In the area of leadership, significant improvements are also noted since the key accountable bodies and strategies were identified and implemented. However, the recommendations on the further development of strong leadership, procurement, and whistleblowing seem to be relevant.

Reference List

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van der Meulen, S, Boin, G, Bousoula, I, Conte-Salinas, N, Paganizza, V, Montanari, F, Fuentes, VR & van der Meulen, B 2015, ‘Fighting food fraud: horsemeat scandal; use of recalls in enforcement throughout the EU’, European Food and Feed Law Review, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 2-13.

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