European Beef Scandal: Yet Another “Neon Swan”


Reading all of the stories the last few weeks about the UK meat contamination scandal reminded me of a post i wrote back in December of 2011. In it, I stated:

Today’s operational networks are full of these neon swans; and it’s interesting to note how many companies acknowledge their possible existence, at the same time as they acknowledge that there are no strategies or plans to deal with these catastrophic but easily foreseeable events. Here are just a few that I have come across in the past few months:

  • Retail: Food contamination in private label products that seriously harms a consumer

…When asked why there is no plan for preparing for a neon swan, the usual answer is that “it’s not in our brief.” The problem is that I get that answer from every department I speak to. Once in a while someone will point me to the Enterprise Risk Management (“ERM”) function, but more often than not ERM analyses are so high level and far reaching that they lack specific understanding of very real, very possible risks. So next time you wonder about those distant black swans, pause for a moment and wonder if there is a neon swan blinking a lot closer to home.

It’s sad that this completely foreseeable (and totally avoidable) problem has come to bear when any number of agents involved in the beef supply chain in Europe could have identified this risk years ago and taken steps to fix it. About all one can say is that at least what they found was horse meat (which perfectly safe to eat if well prepared). It could have easily been some other contaminant in that meat, and anyone who thinks this could not happen again in any one of a dozen other countries is sadly mistaken.

I have been saying that the North American food supply chain has massive vulnerabilities and  risk costs that are not really understood by the consumer or addressed by the people who manage and regulate these supply chains. What happened in the UK could easily happen here.

The US swan continues to blink nice and bright…

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