One cannot help but be struck by the irony that, within days of my blogging about the reduction in food product recalls last year, the contamination of various food products with horse meat has become one of the biggest news stories of the year so far. The two stories could, of course, be completely unconnected. However it is interesting to note that, in many areas, the application of risk management has led to a decrease in the frequency of incidents whilst increasing the severity of the incidents that do occur.
The classic example of this phenomenon is the changing pattern of forest fires. Many years ago forest fires were numerous but generally small; decades of fire prevention measures, and aggressively tackling any small outbreaks, has made forest fires that threaten life and property relatively rare in the developed world. However, this lack of regular fires means that fuel (in the form of dead wood) builds up to a much greater extent than previously so that, once a fire gets out of control, it can cause much greater damage than before (as has been demonstrated by recent events in Australia and elsewhere). It is not immediately obvious what similar mechanism could be operating in the food industry but the analogy iscertainly intriguing.