Retailing with responsibility

22 February 2013

Writing in The Daily Telegraph today, Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King said that following the discovery of horse meat in products labelled as beef, weaknesses in the food supply chain “must be addressed with urgency and rigour”.

“Every retailer and every supplier, from the small independents to the multinational players, from the processors to the food service industry in both the public and private sectors, has a duty to act,” he said. I would expect stricter safety checks and controls from retailers and that the government will follow to ensure such a scandal isn’t repeated. But is it fair that those suppliers who have not been proved to provide contaminated meat are tarred with the same brush? Additionally, is there a danger these checks will be more stringent than actually necessary (airport security springs to my mind), posing more problems for suppliers already struggling with rising costs? In his article, King also responded to claims that suppliers have had to compromise on safety measures because they have been pressurised by supermarkets to drive down their prices, saying this was not the case at Sainsbury’s. “The argument has been made that in their constant push to drive down costs, supermarkets have forced suppliers to compromise on quality and safety checks and processes, and that some type of contamination was a scandal waiting to happen,” he said. In an open letter to members, Peter Marks, chief executive of the Co-operative Group (which removed two lines of frozen burgers from its shelves) said food retailers must accept responsibility. “We can’t blame our suppliers. When we sell products in our shops it’s our responsibility,” he said. This is refreshing to hear and hopefully this might ease some of the blame on suppliers who have been unfairly accused.
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