Are artificially low food prices behind recent food scandals?

12 September 2013

Coping with the slow economic recovery puts consumers in a very vulnerable position whereby opting for low food prices becomes a preferred, and sometimes necessary, choice. But how can supermarkets offer such low prices? Consumers need to realize that when brands and supermarkets offer food with unbelievably low prices, there are often unseen consequences for those who produce it. Moreover, the very safety of our food has been called into question, as we have seen in many of the recent food scandals around the world.

Food scandals have become disturbingly frequent and the reasons behind them often lead back to the same source: shadowy cost cutting at some point in the production, processing or distribution chain. Most times these practices are a result of the drive to increase profit at any cost.

Early 2013 was dominated by the horsemeat scandal which swept throughout Europe and just last week the Dutch tv-programme Zembla, reported a case where VION – one of the biggest slaughterhouses in Europe – was accused of intentional mixing of uncertified meat under the animal welfare certification label-Beter Leven. These and many other cases show that nowadays, what we read on the label is not always what we get.

This past week in the Netherlands, leading supermarket chain Albert Heijn announced that it will lower prices on 1000 products in order to remain competitive. This makes me wonder. As I wrote recently concerning our Land of Promise campaign, supermarkets as a sector use their huge buying power to force their suppliers to bear the risk for their special offers, such as buy one get one free, or 50% deals. With this kind of pressure, suppliers and brand owners sometimes make their own cost cuts which, in the worst cases, can lead to a downward spiral of fraudulent labelling, wrongful product substitution and use of cheap, bonded and child labour. As long as there is no significant penalty or sufficient regulatory consequences for the industry, food scandals will continue with no end in sight.

In the same way that global clothing brands have rightfully been held responsible for the sweatshop conditions suffered by factory workers in their supply chains, I think it is about time the global food brands and supermarkets are also held to account for what happens throughout their food supply chains.

Consumers need to know that their governments will take action against unscrupulous food companies and they need to be assured that other food justice advocates and whistleblowers around the world will not hesitate to sound the alarm when they discover practices that could endanger the safety of our food and the human rights of those who produce it. Fairfood is fully committed to continuing its advocacy for full transparency and accountability of brands and supermarkets’ food supply chains around the world because our food should not be cheap at any cost.

Anselm Iwundu, Executive Director of Fairfood International

Image by:
Taro the Shibu Inu (CC License)