March 7, 2013 5:25PM

Unlike Policymakers, Consumers Use Logic to Avoid Horsemeat

A scandal has recently erupted in Europe after it was discovered that horsemeat was being sold to consumers in processed foods claiming to be 100% beef. This is, of course, already blatantly illegal, but that hasn’t stopped regulators from trying to figure out how to increase their oversight of Europe’s already highly regulated food market.

Unfortunately, some policymakers have used this scandal to push for increased trade barriers within the European Union. Their preferred barrier is the increased use of mandatory country of origin labels. This policy ignores the fact that horsemeat can be passed off as beef in any country and that doing so is illegal in all of them.

Nevertheless, this call for labels reveals a justified concern that complex supply chains obscure relevant information from consumers. But, consumers don’t need protectionist mandates to solve their problems; a little common sense will do just fine. The Scottish Farmer, an advocacy group for Scottish agriculture, reports that 92% of local butcher shops in Scotland have reported increased patronage since the horsemeat scandal broke.

If complex supply chains are perceived as unreliable, consumers will forego the price benefits of frozen packaged food and choose to buy meat from a simpler and more transparent source. Such rational consumer behavior will likely do more to improve the quality of international supply chains than any tweak in complex regulatory oversight.