Another regulator bites the dust … or does it?

Most of you will know I am no fan of regulators. This is not because I don’t think we need them, but it is because something seems to happen to their brains once they get appointed to these lucrative positions.

Over the last week we had the ‘other’ FSA show its failings – not the Financial Services Authority this time, but the Food Standards Agency. An Irish meat processor discovered horse meat where there should have been cow meat and then it all went into the long grass and the front pages. The same long grass that the financial FSA kicked the banking debacle into, the CQC kicked the abuse in care homes and hospitals into, Ofsted put schools into and Ofwat, Ofcom and various others reside in.

The FSA (the food one) has happily jumped behind its new found mates in Brussels talking about complicated supply chains and how this makes it virtually impossible to find the culprit. However, they forget one thing – they are responsible for the food which gets sold to consumers. Their website says:

The Food Standards Agency is responsible for food safety and food hygiene across the UK. We work with local authorities to enforce food safety regulations and have staff who work in UK meat plants to check that the requirements of the regulations are being met. We also commission research related to food safety.

Elsewhere on their site they talk about imported food controls – whoops, they must have skipped that bit. Someone must have forgotten to check the regulations whilst they were in the meat plants generating bits of paper.

The first culprit is the head of the FSA so let’s start there.  Then perhaps the Director for Food Safety and the Director of Operations. Clearly they did not have a clue what was going on, so how big a loss can it be if they go?

Fact of the matter is that these agencies make their organisations and regulations so complex (I found a list of 32 committees on the website and 7 enforcement committees) and spend so much time on them, they forget what they are there for. In this case making sure that what it says on the package is what is actually in the package.

How difficult can this be? When our auditors come into our company they take a sample of items and check them. Not simply the pieces of paper, but they actually go to the core of the information, like verifying transactions with the bank and invoices with the supplier or customer. You should see them when they do due diligence for a takeover, at least the good ones.

So instead of setting up a website which is completely opaque due to the vastness of bits and pieces, why did nobody take samples and test them to see whether the ingredients stated on them were actually in them? How difficult can that be?

The Irish found the problem months ago, but the clever people of the FSA decided to do more paperwork for a while, before letting the public know. In the meantime they did not even find that a portion of the horse meat may in fact be donkey meat or is it dyed pork? That is only coming out now – in fact I first read about it in a Belgian newspaper which is some admission for a Dutchman (just kidding my Belgian friends!).

Whilst searching for the guilty will take lots of time and money and provide lots of jobs to people, it forgets the key question: where was the FSA in all this?

The simple way to protect yourself is to become a vegetarian, though who knows what is in those packages. The labelling obviously means very little.

What am I going to do? If I have been eating donkey instead of beef, it did me no harm and it tasted fine. I will have my steak rare please.

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