Thursday, February 20, 2014

Silvercrest & Burger King: Contaminated Meat (2013)

Burger King logo
Beginning in 2013, a widespread scandal rocked the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland involving meat distributed and sold by many different food retailers. The scandal involved beef specifically, or at least what was packaged as 100% top quality beef. Many major food outlets in the U.K. and Ireland, most notably Burger King, were discovered to have served beef to customers that had a trace of horse meat in it (Meikle). The provider for Burger King was a company called Silvercrest, a subsidiary of famous food company ABP. Silvercrest reportedly imported the horse meat from a non-approved supplier in Poland in blocks of ice. While this may not seem like a terrible scandal, the reality of the situation is that although it generally ranks a favorable tasting and lean meat, horse meat can be potentially dangerous for humans to consume. According to Forbes staff writer Vickery Eckhoff, horses are given certain legal drugs that can potentially cause fatal cancer in humans if consumed (Eckhoff). While the trace of horsemeat was calculated at roughly .01%, Burger King still served customers beef burgers that could potentially have tiny doses of cancerous chemicals in them, and that is a serious problem. Furthermore, it is alleged that once Burger King had become fully aware of the situation, they attempted to cover it up until it could find a new meat supplier to replace Silvercrest, who they immediately severed all ties with (Poulter). According to Jenette Longfield, of the campaigning food and health group Sustain, Burger King’s approach was “not the open, honest and transparent way that we expect a major food company to treats its customers” (Poulter). Burger King had repeatedly denied that the beef served at their restaurant locations were contaminated by any kind of other meat, but after two weeks eventually conceded that traces of horse meat were found after testing was conducted (Glotz). Clearly there are all kinds of ethical issues going on here involving multiple companies, Silvercrest and Burger King.

Silvercrest Foods sign outside of their factory

Individualism states that everyone has the right to purse their own interests and should do so, but no one has a right to make other people’s choices about their pursuits for them (Salazar). Silvercrest was the biggest violator of this statement. Customers had the right to pursue their interest of paying their hard earned money in return for a burger of trusted quality. By sneakily inserting small amounts of horsemeat into the beef it supplied Burger King with, it harmed both Burger King and its loyal customers in the process. Silvercrest was obviously only taking into account its own interests in this situation, whatever its motive may have been for combining its beef supply with undocumented horse meat, and completely disregarded Burger King and its customers in the process. The reputation of Silvercrest has plummeted since the scandal as it is currently in the midst of an investigation to determine who was responsible for the situation, while Burger King’s image has been temporarily partially tarnished in the U.K. and Ireland, but it has not been a globally devastating scandal for the fast food supplier. From this point in time, Silvercrest needs to publicly identify who was responsible for the scandal and fire them on the spot, while Burger King needs to build back their reputation by hanging up signs in stores, on billboards, and possibly even running short commercials letting customers know that it made a mistake and has since overhauled its meat tracing process to ensure it will only serve 100% tested beef in the future.

Utilitarianism states that happiness and pleasure are the only things of intrinsic value (Salazar). It also states that we should bring about happiness and pleasure to all beings capable of feeling it (Salazar). So, essentially, the only thing that matters is how happy you are, and how happy you make others around you. I don’t think either Silvercrest or Burger King made anyone happy in this situation. Silvercrest made Burger King quite unhappy by sneaking horse meat into the beef it supplied them, and in turn Burger King made its customers unhappy once they learned they may have consumed potentially dangerous horse meat served at Burger King. A utilitarianist would have done quite the face palm after learning what happened. Silvercrest did not benefit in any way in this situation, and the costs were that it got canned by Burger King and its reputation is likely to be eternally tarnished. The one benefit Burger King can attribute to this situation is that after admitting about the horse situation, it stated it would be internally reviewing its meat identification process, which will hopefully yield the result of increased detection probability of any future contamination situation. The one huge cost is that its reputation took a hit, and Burger King will have to work extremely hard to restore it. Burger King customers will benefit from Burger King’s planned improved meat identification process, but may also have been damaged by the potentially unsafe horse meat. Burger King needs to publicize its revamped aforementioned system it plans to implement if it wants to do what is best for its image, and customers need to stay away from Burger King until this system is in action and they know the meat they eat there will be 100% safe.

Daniel Schwartz, CEO of Burger King

Kantianism states that one should always act rationally, help others to make rational and informed decisions, respect people and their autonomy, and do what is right because it is morally right rather than for the result it yields (Salazar). Each company failed miserably to abide by Kantian principles. Silvercrest did not act rationally, because even if it had a minor shortage of pure beef, letting Burger King know would have been the better decision by far. Adding the horse meat was a careless and risky decision that came back to hurt the company in catastrophic fashion. The decision also prevented Burger King from acting rationally, because Silvercrest withheld the knowledge that it added horse meat to the beef shipment. Finally, it was clearly the morally wrong thing to do, knowing the safety concerns of feeding horse meat to humans. If Silvercrest had simply sent slightly less beef to Burger King and omitted the horse meat to make up the difference, it would have benefited professionally and morally at the same time. Burger King also did not act rationally. Instead of admitting what happened to the public when it found out, it covered up the whole thing instead. Once the truth was inevitably leaked, it made Burger King appear unreliable and untrustworthy. Morally, covering up scandals is not the way to go either. If Burger King had acted with more transparency and worked with the public to assure them it was going to get to the bottom of the situation and fix things for the future, it also would have benefitted professionally and morally at the same time. Also, the Formula of Humanity states that you should treat humanity well as an end and never simply as a means (Salazar). Essentially, that means you should do the right thing because you want to, not because it could lead to a desirable outcome. Clearly, Silvercrest and Burger King representatives have a lot to learn in this regard. Honesty and integrity are two vital components of this ethical law, and both were seriously lacking these qualities during the scandal, seeing as each relied on lying and deceit instead.

Virtue Theory
Virtues are the characteristics that allow things to function properly, and depend on the thing’s function and circumstances (Salazar). The four main virtues are courage, honesty, self-control, and fairness (Salazar). The two companies did not show courage. Silvercrest tried to hide the fact it added horsemeat to its beef shipments, while Burger King tried to cover up what happened until it felt it could publicly respond efficiently. Silvercrest guaranteed 100% beef with its shipments, so it was not honest. Burger King vehemently denied any contamination of its beef at first, even when there was factual proof the opposite was the case. Self-control would mean that the companies would admit when things went wrong instead of escalating things, and Burger King in particular did not do this. Lastly, fairness was completely thrown out the window. Silvercrest wasn’t fair to Burger King by providing them with tainted meat, and Burger King wasn’t fair to the public by withholding information until it was already public news anyway. Potentially sick customers would want to get tested immediately, and if they fell ill because Burger King didn’t announce what happened in a timely fashion, it would be entirely Burger King’s fault. Essentially, to achieve virtuousness the companies should have never done the dishonest and harmful things that they did. Tricking fellow companies and customers is hardly virtuous, and only leads to bad publicity and bad morality on top of it.

Written by: Christopher Longo


Eckhoff, Vickery. "How Safe Is That Horse Meat?." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 18 June 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

Glotz, Julia. "Burger King drops ABP's Silvercrest Foods as burger supplier." N.p., 24 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.
Meikle, James, Felicity Lawrence, and Jemma Buckley. "Burger King reveals its burgers were contaminated in horsemeat scandal." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 1 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

Poulter, Sean. "Burger King admits it has been selling beef burgers and Whoppers containing horsemeat." Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 1 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

Salazar, Heather. "Business Ethics Powerpoint Slides". Western New England University. Kodiak. Accessed 20 February 2014.

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