Why Europeans Are Stuck Eating Horse Meat

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months you will most likely have heard of the ‘horse meat scandal’ or more technically the ’2013 meat adulteration scandal’. In short, while most of us have been happily eating our ready meals and pre-cooked meats presuming that they contained the same meat advertised on the packet, in reality that hasn’t always been the case and in fact a lot of our ‘beef’ has actually been horse. And who’s to blame? Unfortunately it’s Europe, which exports a lot of meat around the world. Here we’ll look at why Europeans are now stuck eating horse meat, and why it’s affecting those outside of the US too now.

History

The presence of horse meat in our meals first came to light when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland discovered horse DNA in 10 out of 27 hamburgers, with 23 of those also testing positive for pig DNA. One of those hamburger samples came from Tesco – which is the largest grocery chain in England – and was found to be 29% made up of horse. With the slaughter of horses being illegal in England, this was particularly tough to stomach.

Shortly after on the 4th February, the Swedish food manufacturer Findus withdrew one of their frozen lasagnes (lasagne is English for Lasanga) from the market in response to concerns that their supplier, Comigel, had over the type of meat being used. The British Food Standards Agency later confirmed that the lasagne has indeed been comprised of over 60% horse meat.

This was bad news for the rest of Europe, and for the rest of the world, as that same company (Comigel) supplied meats to 16 countries around the world. Countries in France and Sweden rapidly began withdrawing foods, while horse meat was found in a range of Dutch products too.

So How Did This Happen?

So how did this happen? And who’s responsible? Well at the moment it’s not that easy to say. While the British FSA states that the evidence points either to ‘gross negligence’ or ‘deliberate contamination’, the journey that any piece of meat makes before entering the food chain makes it hard to pin point a specific point of ‘entry’. At one point Comigel accused a meat processing company Spanghero of being responsible, who in turn blamed abattoirs in Romania (where the meat had been bought via traders in the Netherlands and Cyprus) demonstrating just how many ‘stops’ our meat makes on the journey to our plates and our mouths. After looking into the accusations though, Romania’s prime minister claimed that the slaughterhouses in question never had any direct contact with Comigel.

With no obvious scapegoat (or scapehorse?) at this point, many people are pointing the finger at rules within the EU. Some state that rules in the EU should have been tougher on labelling, while in the UK there’s a feeling that certain rules are too stringent such as the ban on the sale of ‘mechanically separated meat’. Previously  manufacturers in the UK had used this technique to created ‘Desinewed Meat’ to get meat cheaply, but an EU ban forced them to turn to cheaper sources in Europe. Outside of Europe in the US and elsewhere a simple ban on imports of certain meats can solve a lot of problems until the issue has been solved, but in the Europe such a ban would go against the EU trade agreement meaning that Europeans are ‘stuck eating horsemeat’ thanks to the union. There were already talks of Britain taking a referendum on EU membership, and scandals like this might just push such a scenario forward. It’s all rather reminiscent of a certain BSE scandal…

Is it Safe?

The next question we now have to ask is whether we’re in any danger eating the horse meat? Well in itself horsemeat is not dangerous and won’t make anyone ill, but the concern is the veterinary drug given to horses called ‘bute’ which can cause a serious blood disorder called aplastic anaemia in 1 in every 30,000 people. More to the point it makes one wonder what else might be going into our food without us knowing and demonstrates how easily something this major can occur. For Jews meanwhile the discovery of horse and pig meat in these products is also highly offensive on a religious level.

If you want to stay safe from horsemeat then the best solution is to eat fresh meat that looks like the animal you’re eating. Head to your local butchers and you can see for yourself whether you’re getting a cow or a horse, and you’ll notice the taste is different too. Ask for their ‘scraps’ at the end of the day and you’ll find this is actually a very cheap way to eat too – even if it does take a bit longer to prepare.

In the meantime many organizations are ordering tests to be carried out on a range of products. In the US independent laboratories are testing all beef products for their authenticity, while investigations are being carried out in France and Sweden too. For now though, it seems like many Europeans are ‘stuck’ eating horse meat…