As FriendsEAT co-founder Antonio Evans recently pointed out, IKEA announced that horsemeat was found in it’s Swedish meatballs in Eastern Europe, and pulled 1,675 pounds of their meatballs off shelves.
The BBC reported that Ikea has withdrawn meatballs from sale in 14 European countries. “Swiss food giant Nestle meanwhile said it had found horse DNA in meat from the Spanish supplier, Servocar.”
The scandal about the use of horsemeat labeled as beef has now spread across Europe, confirming Europol’s — the European Union police agency — suspicion of continent-wide fraud and allegations of an international criminal conspiracy to substitute horsemeat for beef.
First it was Ireland, the UK, Germany, and then all of Europe. Horsemeat was found in “beef and pork” meatballs in the Czech Republic and then in 13 other nations including the UK, Holland, and Portugal.
Is The U.S. Vulnerable To Horsemeat Scandal?
Of course! If horsemeat has been a longstanding ingredient found in processed food products throughout Europe, then U.S. consumers can reasonably presume horsemeat has most likely been substituted or mixed with beef — at one time or another — in some U.S. processed foods, or fast food burgers chains where it’s easy to conceal horsemeat with beef.
Burger King, for example, is already reported to have dropped a supplier linked to the scandal. U.S.-based multinational food producers and U.S. food chains are just as vulnerable to the mass fraud and deception that has swept across Europe.
“We have investigations going all over because it’s very, very likely that the same situation going on in Europe is also going on here,” said Simone Netherlands, director of Respect4Horses, a horse welfare organization.
According to the New York Times, more than 30 million pounds of foreign horsemeat is transported [monthly] through Houston, Texas, on its way to international ports from slaughterhouses in Mexico.
“That’s more than four tons of horse a month.” There is ample opportunity for shipments of horsemeat going through Houston to end up mislabeled or mixed with beef in restaurants and retailers in the United States.
Moreover, packages of ground beef sold in the United States may have come from Canada, Mexico and other places in Latin America where horses are slaughtered for human consumption.
The Times mentions that Dee Mansfield, a consumer in Tennessee, was “shocked” to find that a package of ground beef she bought at her local grocery store contained meat from Canada, Mexico and Uruguay.
“I’m a horse lover,” Ms. Mansfield said, “and for me to think that I have the possibility of horse meat in my freezer literally makes me sick.”
In fact, Daniel Arkin, Staff Writer for NBC News claims it’s actually legal to slaughter horses for human consumption in the U.S.
“In November 2011, Congress quietly lifted a five-year ban on funding for horse processing inspections.”
But according to Holly Hazard, a senior vice president at the Humane Society of the United States who tracks equine rights issues, since the ban was lifted, no horse slaughterhouses have successfully opened.
Nevertheless, horsemeat advocates say removal of the ban allows the horse processing industry to regain a foothold in the market.
USDA To Approve Horse Slaughtering Plant
Last week, New York Times writer Stephanie Strom reported the USDA is likely to approve a horse slaughtering plant in New Mexico in the next two months, which would allow equine meat suitable for human consumption to be produced in the United States.
The USDA approved slaughtering plant will create the opportunity for horsemeat to be labled as, or mixed with beef all that much easier. Just consider the already convoluted path one pound of U.S. ground beef travels before it’s packaged and sold.
A single portion of hamburger is often a combination of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. One pound of hamburger may be the combination of ground beef from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas, and Uruguay, which is then shipped to a South Dakota company to process the final product.
Americans Shun Horsemeat
Slate’s Brian Palmer claims some horse-eaters liken the meat to beef, only slightly sweeter and more tender. “During a meat shortage in 1946, American housewives reportedly tried to fool their husbands by swapping the cheaper and more widely available horse for beef.”
As National Geographic’s Catherine Zuckerman points out, in the U.S. having pig, chicken, and cow as part of your diet is one thing, but “there’s just something wrong about eating horse.”
“Think of the Kentucky Derby, and the many movies and books dedicated to the equine kind,” adds Catherine. “It’s probably safe to say that most Americans are uncomfortable with the thought of sitting down to a plate of Black Beauty or Seabiscuit.”
World’s Biggest Horsemeat Consumer
Catherine claims on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, horsemeat is popular, as is donkey.
And according to estimates made by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the world’s biggest consumer of horsemeat is China.
“The Chinese dry it for sausages. The meat is especially popular in the southern region of Guangxi, where it’s served as part of a dish made with rice noodles.”
The FAO estimates Kazakhstan, a country in Central Asia, is the 2nd largest consumer, “where horse is an integral part of the diet and used to make various sausages and a type of dumpling called manti. Russia, Mexico, Mongolia, Argentina, and Japan are also top consumers of horse meat.”
According to Slate, in France, Belgium, and Sweden, horsemeat outsells mutton and lamb combined.
Companies Caught With Horsemeat
Fast food giant Taco Bell has taken beef off the menu in its three UK outlets after tests on ground beef from a European supplier revealed traces of horsemeat.
After withdrawing meatballs from stores across Europe, Ikea said its own tests confirmed “a few indications of horse meat” and that it would also remove wiener sausages made by the same supplier.
Birds Eye said in a statement: “We are introducing a new ongoing DNA testing programme that will ensure no minced beef meat product can leave our facilities without first having been cleared by DNA testing.”
Brakes, which is based in Ashford, Kent, said: “Our testing programme represents a significant proportion of all results the FSA has obtained from across the food industry. Brakes have also segregated a frozen burger as a precaution after equine DNA at 1% was reported to the Food Standards Agency.”
It said it was “very disappointed to have been let down” by suppliers and that it “sincerely apologised to our customers.”
Subsequent rounds of testing revealed adulteration in some products sold by Asda, Sodexo – which supplies food to schools, care homes and the armed forces – and the Whitbread Group.
Swiss food giant Nestle said it had found horse DNA in meat from the Spanish supplier, Servocar.
Restaurants Now Adding Horsemeat to Menus
A UK restaurant in Hertfordshire started serving a horse burger despite some consumers shunning meat products altogether after the horsemeat scandal.
Josh Gale, head chef of Host restaurant in Bishop’s Stortford, said horsemeat itself was not the issue but the origin of the meat and the quality of the ingredients in products.
In South Philly, the Italian-market restaurant Monsu has received bomb threats after its owner announced plans to add horsemeat to its menu.
“I understand where people are passionate about one thing or another,” said Monsu owner Peter McAndrews, “But someone making threats to do harm to me or my family or coworkers or whatever—that’s mildly psychotic.”