Horsemeat: Tesco boss airs views on food security

Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke revealed Tesco’s view of the food security issue at the opening of Northern Ireland’s Institute for Global Food Security last week.

It was his belief that, to sort out the consumer confidence and supply chain security issue, more needed to be done closer to home. He said: “I have always been of the view that we need to work more closely with producers. But the horsemeat issue has reinforced my view and has demonstrated that we have to move much more quickly than I first thought would be necessary.”

The opening took place at Queen’s University, Belfast, and Clarke highlighted that such an institute could not have opened at a more timely occasion. He said: “Never before has the food supply chain been in the spotlight in the way it is today.”

Food security

Clarke said he was interested to talk about two things at the opening: the first was the opportunity for the food industry in Northern Ireland; and the second was Tesco’s “point of view on the really important issue of food security”.

He said food security, trust and the horsemeat scandal were three themes “intrinsically linked” and that the horsemeat issue that retailers had been facing had “shaken consumer’s confidence” in all involved in the food supply chain.

“Customers, whatever price they pay and whichever products they can afford, have the right to expect that the product in the pack is what it says on the pack. When they discovered they couldn’t be sure that was the case, their confidence in our industry was hit hard,” Clarke said.

Restore confidence

As a company, Clarke explained, Tesco had been doing all it could to restore the lost confidence. He said the retailer had implemented a “world-leading” DNA testing programme on all processed beef coming into its supply chain, and that the company had been communicating with customers in “every way we can”, adding, “Hopefully you’ve seen some of the advertisements we’ve placed in the papers.

“These were important immediate steps. But what the discoveries have taught us is that there are more fundamental changes needed in how we source the products we sell. This has been a wake-up call for us all, and I see it being a pivotal moment for our industry.”

Closer to home

Clarke said he was very clear that the best way to have more control over the meat supply chain was to produce more closer to home. “We know our customers’ appetite for products from the UK and Ireland is greater than ever and we want to give them every opportunity to buy products produced locally,” he said.

“So I have committed Tesco to sourcing as much as we reasonably can in the UK and Ireland. It’s what our customers want, and we want to work with the farming community to increase capacity for the production of meat and poultry in the UK, so we can meet the demand from our customers who want to see it produced closer to home.”