Photograph by Eric Gaillard, Reuters
Published February 22, 2013
Europe's horse meat scandal escalated this week after Nestlé announced it was recalling certain pasta meals from stores in Spain, Italy, and France.
One of the world's best known food companies, the Switzerland-based Nestlé is the latest in a string of businesses that have detected varying amounts of horse—from traces of DNA to 100 percent meat—in products labeled as "beef."
"There is no food safety issue," Nestlé said in a statement, though "the mislabeling of products means they fail to meet the very high standards consumers expect from us."
Indeed, some comments posted on our previous horse meat story suggest that deception is the most grievous crime that's been committed against consumers.
"Everyone has the right to choose what to eat and what not [to eat]," noted one reader. Another wrote, "I don't think people have an issue with horse meat as much as they have an issue with horse meat being served as beef."
Nestlé has apologized and is implementing new quality assurance tests for its beef. The company is also suspending deliveries of products that were made with beef supplied by the German firm H.J. Schypke, which was linked to the tainted meat.
Searching for Answers
Why did this happen in the first place? In a world of food regulation and public-health policy, how could consumers be tricked on such an epic scale?
Answers remain unclear for at least two reasons.
First, the root of the problem has not been identified. People want to know where to point a finger, but "we can't say yet—that's what the investigation is for," says Beverley Cook of the British Food Standards Agency, which is conducting a "UK-wide survey of food authenticity in processed meat products."
The European Union has also instructed member states to conduct random tests for horse meat and report the results.
The scandal, which began in Britain but now involves multiple European countries, first sparked when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) issued a press release in January saying that some burgers labeled as "beef" had tested positive for horse and pig DNA. Since then, several European food manufacturers have scrambled to pull products from shelves—and have begun casting about for the culprits.
French authorities have placed the bulk of the blame on wholesaler Spanghero, suspending its license last week. According to the BBC, the company denies any wrongdoing and has since been allowed to resume production of certain types of meats and sausages.
Meanwhile, some Polish and Romanian slaughterhouses are being investigated as possible sources for the falsely advertised meat. In Yorkshire, England, arrests were made recently at the Peter Boddy abattoir, also believed to be involved in the scandal.
But ultimate responsibility has not been assigned to any one slaughterhouse or supplier, and the U.K.'s Food Standards Agency notes on its website that results of the department's survey won't be available until April.
A Complex Stew
Adding to the murkiness of this case is the nature of the food supply chain. Despite the growing farm-to-table trend and ascendant "locavore" mentality, the fact is that much of the way we get our food these days remains woefully convoluted. There's a big difference between buying meat at a farmer's market and picking up a package of cellophane-wrapped ground meat at the grocery store. And the sprawling maze between pasture and dinner plate is dotted with dealers, auctions, primary and secondary processing plants (aka slaughterhouses), and distributors. According to an exhaustive Guardian article on the horse meat controversy, "there are around 450 points at which the integrity of the [supply] chain can break down."
That's bad news for anyone trying to take control of his or her diet, or make ethically based choices when it comes to food. After all, what if what you see isn't what you get?
So: Has the horse meat scandal caused you to think twice about what you're eating? Post your thoughts below and let us know.
These people really should check what they put in they're meat! It'd absurd they can pass Horse & Pork off as beef! Cant the see Muslims can't eat pork!?
Absurd.... How can they continue to say there is not a health risk when they have already found meat with prohibited drugs, they obviously didn't test it. and they STILL do not know the origin! Does anybody believe that it isn't a health risk?????
I use my local butcher. They know what farm my meat is coming from and the conditions it's raised in. I find it's flavor much better too.
It is not just horse meat I would worry about if I was visiting Europe. Once a company is willing to deceive it can easily mix many other unwholesome red meats and sell as beef products. These other meats will not be revealed by present testing if it is confined to horse meat only. I would just skip meat and go vegetarian or at the most go for a white meat like chicken or fish in whole pieces that one can see and not something ground up. It is Ikea meat balls that have been found with horse meat, but as I said I worry less about horse meat than contamination by meat of carnivorus animals such as cats and dogs. I wish they would test for that too..
It is said that this is not a food safety issue. I wonder if there is concern about the safety of horse meat from an unknown source. Horses are given lots of medications that may or may not make consuming their tissue safe for consumers. An example is phenylbutazone (commonly called bute.) It's a bit like "horse aspirin," and it is used very widely. I don't believe "bute" is considered safe for human consumption.
Could you even imagine the firestorm that would have occured if it was pork?
Heads would roll for sure.
It seems the European Union has asked for horse meat testing. This will reveal horse DNA but not contamination with other meats. If a company can deceive with horse meat why not other meats too like sheep, dog, donkey (recently discovered in Africa) etc.?
what did these people expect when they're buying unrecogniseable mystery meat in ready meals? this so called 'scandal' however, is giving a lot of business to struggling local butchers, which is only a good thing. maybe now people will learn that supermarkets aren't all sweetness and light.
I, personally, do not wish to ingest horse meat sold as beef...I think it is unethical and I worry about how this can happen...if it can happen in the UK, then it can happen in the United States, and that bothers me!
It's not. Most medications given to horses have been recalled or known to be dangerous to humans. Plus these horses are most likely auction lot horses with unknown backgrounds and health checks.
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