From spaghetti bolog-neighs to nag-bog, no one can deny there has been a lighter side to the horse meat fiasco. But as the scandal spreads there is less to laugh at.

From spaghetti bolog-neighs to nag-bog, no one can deny there has been a lighter side to the horse meat fiasco. But as the scandal spreads and UK suppliers are implicated, there is less to laugh at.

British and French supermarkets have now pulled thousands of meat products from sale for fear they contain horse meat, and the acceleration of the situation this week has caused it to reach a tipping point. With environment secretary Owen Paterson warning we should brace for further bad news today as the results of extensive testing are due to be revealed, the food industry has moved from damaging, but isolated, failures in the supply chain to the prospect of systematic and even criminal malpractice.

The lack of transparency in the food supply chain and the failure of checks and balances to expose these fraudulent activities sooner have been exposed as serious concerns. And, in light of these failings, the industry might count itself lucky nothing more sinister than unlabelled horse meat has got through the system.

The implications of the crisis for the UK’s grocers are not hard to fathom. According to a poll of 2,000 shoppers conducted exclusively by ICM for Retail Week, a sizeable majority of the public believes suppliers and manufacturers not retailers are to blame. But 45% said they would avoid buying meat from grocers involved and 66% of shoppers feel less confident about what goes into food as a result of the scandal.

Retailers can rightly feel betrayed by their suppliers. But ultimately, the contract of trust is between retailer and consumer, and action must be taken swiftly to restore confidence in that relationship.

That is particularly true at the value end of the market, where retailers now face the challenge of convincing consumers that they apply equally strict standards to their value ranges as to their higher margin lines.

The complexity of the problem means the industry will be forced to seek solutions before the full scale of the scandal is known and try to rebuild trust while further cases continue to come to light.

But the food sector cannot wait the months it might take to unravel this mess. It must quickly demonstrate it can instigate lasting change, the consequences of which might alter the way retailers and their suppliers work together for good.