'Difficult to point fingers at retailers' over the horse meat scandal, says Sainsbury's head buyer

9 October 2013

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10 October 2013 | Will Green

The head buyer at Sainsbury's said it was "difficult to point fingers at retailers" over the horse meat scandal because "you can't mitigate against criminality in the supply chain".

Neil Bradford, interim head of procurement at the supermarket, told the CIPS Annual Conference there were also limits to the amount of product testing that can be done.

"The most important point to understand is you can't mitigate against criminality in the supply chain. It's not fair to point fingers at some of the retailers," he said.

"There are always limits to how far you can test every product."

Sainsbury's was not implicated in the horse meat scandal but Tesco suffered a drop in sales after customers reacted when horse DNA was found in some of its products. Two men have been arrested on suspicion of fraud in an ongoing police investigation into the scandal.

Bradford was speaking during a panel discussion on the topic of risk and reputation.

Andrew Leach, vice president of purchase finance at aerospace firm Rolls Royce, said they worked in "many safety critical product areas".

"If we get it wrong you won't be worried about the pennies you save, the impact on Rolls Royce would be enormous. My role in Rolls Royce is all about risk management and how you can keep this centre stage so we protect the brand and don't let you down," he said.

Steve Johnson, head of global supply chain and supply chain management at Prosafe, which manufactures safety equipment for the oil and gas industry, said risk was about maintaining a reliable network of suppliers.

"When you shut off supplier routes, if it's an inventory based decision, you might need to switch that back on in six months – they might not be there," he said.

Jim Carter, head of contracts and procurement operations at Network Rail, said it was important that businesses understood risk concerned the entire organisation. "It's procurement that is looked to mitigate that," he said.

Bradford said: "Is procurement taking on too much burden in terms of risk? Sometimes I think perhaps we try to have too broad shoulders. Taking too much responsibility can be dangerous."

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