Horse Meat, Wine, and Breasts. – Why Standards Matter.

Mar 12, 2013 | general, The Diary of an ISO Consultant

Image copyright Steve Cole. No unauthorised use.

From time to time, a scandal emerges which reminds us that although we (supposedly) live in a highly-sophisticated, carefully-controlled, global manufacturing world, things “being right” are only as good as things being “done right”. Quality management systems suddenly becomes very important. Sadly, standards such as ISO9001 are often only seen to truly “matter” when it’s far too late to change events.

Hence, in early 2013, huge retail groups are found out to be selling meat products which are not “what they say on the tin”. Maybe we could expect occasional cross-contamination in vast meat processing plants. But then, in a similar episode, a company making breast implants turned out to have been filling them with silicon which is industrial grade, rather than medical grade. And, circa 1985, Austrian wines were found to have been “improved” with anti-freeze. Most surprising for those strict, methodical, and thorough Germanic types.

How on earth did the mighty fall? Simple. Standards ceased to matter, and/or were not checked for compliance. All this certification and checking costs money, and unlike a new headquarters building, is not a striking statement of corporate success and importance. Standards, and their quality management systems, simply sit out of the way, quietly making sure that things are done properly in order to produce things which are what they purport to be. From time to time, however, something happens that shows that they matter. In fact, really matter

In a cost-driven, recession-battered world, employing someone who is technically knowledgeable and can verify products and processes is almost as expensive as employing those who develop new products. So, somewhere down the supply chain, someone does not bother to check certifications.

Worse, they don’t bother to “check the checkers” to see if, when certifications are present, they are genuine and properly authorised. Is their standard more than ink on a letterhead? Eventually, this lands organisations in the situation of not knowing the integrity of their supply chains and therefore the quality of what they deliver. Simply, your major corporation ends up with goods wearing their precious and fragile identity, but of which they know neither quality nor origin. This is probably how horse meat turned up in a major supermarket’s product via Eire, France and Romania, no-one knowing precisely how on earth it got there.

Now, being in the quality business, it’s in my interest to convince you that, “save on standards and checking, and you’ll pay dearly later”. I would say that, wouldn’t I? However, it’s useful to reflect on what this particular lapse in quality has cost the companies concerned.

This will be more that what  good quality management systems, “checked by checked checkers” will cost. Think “driving without insurance” versus “being sued for causing an accident”. You may save the cost of the premium for a couple of years, but when things do finally go wrong, you’ll wish that you’d paid up for something intangible, maybe seeming a little unnecessary, but vital.

A few gallons of anti-freeze put the multi-million pound Austrian wine industry out of business for around ten years. Reputation and confidence are hard things to fix. Good Quality Assurance, ased around realitis quality management systems, will cost. A lack quality assurance will cost even more.


Written by Colin Brown of ISO Consultants


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