LONDON – The scandal of horse meat being labeled and sold as beef is “unforgivable,” said Paul Bulcke, chief executive officer of Nestle, S.A., Vevey, Switzerland. Mr. Bulcke addressed the scandal in a speech Feb. 25 in the United Kingdom.

“The horse meat issue affects the entire industry,” he said. “Widespread fraud is being committed by a few across Europe. I understand that many consumers and many of you in the industry feel misled, I feel the same.

“The success of the food industry in general, and of companies such as Nestle, is built on trust. Trust is our most important asset and we should all work hard not to lose it.

“What our industry is facing today is a trust issue. It is wrong and unacceptable that a minority has put our entire industry and all the people involved in it in such a bad light.”

Mr. Bulcke pointed out that while the food industry is often heavily criticized, it has played an important role in the global development of society in feeding millions of people with safe and nutritious products.

“Our industry has made major progress over the years,” he said. “Food has never been safer and yet, the perception is sometimes the opposite. But the current issue is not a food safety issue, it is a trust issue.”

Mr. Bulcke made his comments as the keynote speaker at the City Food Lecture, which is given every year by a leading figure in the food business who is invited to speak about the issues they regard as most important in shaping the way food is produced, distributed, marketed, sold and consumed.

Mr. Bulcke’s comments also focused on many broader, long-term issues facing the food and beverage industry, such as water scarcity. He argued that overuse of fresh water poses not only a serious environmental hazard, but also a major risk to political and social stability. He said water scarcity will be the cause of massive food shortages within the next 15 to 20 years and that now was the time for industry, governments and other stakeholders to act decisively.

“It is anticipated that there will be up to 30% shortfalls in global cereal production by 2030 due to water scarcity,” he said. “This is a loss equivalent to the entire grain crops of India and the United States combined.

“Resource shortages lead to price increases and volatility. Higher prices for staple cereals are not so much of a problem for the West, or for most people in Europe. But a price increase of more than 200% will certainly be felt when you have to spend 40% to 60% of your income on food, mostly staple food.”

Mr. Bulcke cautioned that if food companies are to continue to produce enough affordable, quality food for the fast-growing and increasingly prosperous global population, ensuring availability of fresh water is critical.

“There will be a further 2.3 billion people on the planet by 2050, adding to existing demand for food and energy,” he said.  “Already today, water withdrawals are in excess of sustainable supply, and this gap continues to widen.

“It is only by working together with policymakers, civil society, agriculture and other stakeholders at local and international levels that we can develop effective, coherent and concrete action.

“This is an issue that must be addressed urgently. I am convinced it can be solved. We should give water the right priority, the right value.”