Pony Burgers? Europe Gags on a Horsemeat Scandal

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ANDREW YATES / AFP / Getty Images

Horses are pictured beside the Peter Boddy slaughterhouse in Todmorden, northwest England, on Feb. 13, 2013

What started as concern over horsemeat in burgers in Ireland and the U.K. has now blown up into a Europe-wide scandal and stoked cross-border tension throughout the Continent. The scandal started small, when earlier this year in Ireland horse DNA was detected in burgers sold in supermarkets there and across the U.K. But since then, various packaged beef products sold in several supermarket chains have been found to contain anywhere from 60% to 100% horsemeat. (Other beef-labeled products have been found to contain traces of pork.)

Though the horsemeat was discovered in packaged frozen lasagnas, burgers and Bolognese sauce in several British supermarkets, the problem appears to have originated several steps earlier in the production process. But pinpointing exactly how, and where, the horsemeat got into the contaminated products has proved difficult.

“It is already clear that we are dealing with a Europe-wide supply network,” U.K. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told the House of Commons on Feb. 11. “It is unacceptable that people have been deceived in this way. There appears to have been criminal activity in an attempt to defraud the consumer.”

As authorities have attempted to trace the products backward to determine exactly where horsemeat entered the food supply chain — and whether the addition was by mistake or criminal design — they’ve shone light on just how murky and unregulated the European meat market is.

The frozen lasagnas, for example, are from the Swedish brand Findus and clearly stated they contained beef. However, Findus had the frozen lasagnas prepared by a company called Comigel, which has headquarters in France but factories in Luxembourg. French investigators have discovered that Comigel received the offending meat from another French supplier called Spanghero, which in turn received the meat from a slaughterhouse in Romania, apparently arranged by traders in Cyprus and the Netherlands.

The chain of connections between retailer and slaughterhouse appears to be so opaque, it prompted French Minister for Consumer Goods Benoît Hamon to describe the system as “mafia-like.” While Europeans have different views on eating horse — Brits typically are repulsed by the idea, but the French aren’t so averse — consumers across the region are irate about being hoodwinked. And with the number of companies and countries involved, the fallout of the contamination has led to much finger-pointing.

Findus told TIME in an e-mail that it had already severed its relationship with Comigel in Luxembourg and that the company “has taken proactive steps ever since the horsemeat issue broke in the U.K.” Findus has also issued a statement saying they were currently “taking legal advice” on whether to pursue legal action against its supplier. For its part, Comigel did not reply to TIME’s requests for comment. And according to the Associated Press, Spanghero has issued a statement that meat was marked as beef when it arrived from Romania.

European leaders are also struggling to rein in the scandal. Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta has spoken out to defend the unnamed slaughterhouse from accusations. “From all the data we have at the moment, there is no breach of European rules committed by companies from Romania or on Romanian territory,” he told a press conference on Feb. 11.

Meanwhile, British meat suppliers were pulled into the fray on Feb. 13, when the Food Standards Agency (FSA) shut down a slaughterhouse in north England and a meat plant in Wales after an investigation revealed horse had been used to make burgers and kebab meat. While it’s unclear whether the horsemeat was intentionally or mistakenly mislabeled, Andrew Rhodes of the FSA told the BBC that they intend to “continue following it through until there is nothing left to find.”

All the horsemeat is being tested for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, commonly called bute and forbidden from entering the human food chain, though there are no current reasons to believe the meat poses a health risk. Though banning food imports is forbidden for European member states under E.U. rules, Paterson told the BBC on Feb. 10 that “if we find that there is a product that could be injurious to public health, I will take the necessary action.”

On Wednesday, Paterson flew to Brussels to meet with ministers from countries affected by the horsemeat contamination, including Ireland, France, Romania, Luxembourg, Sweden and Poland, to discuss the scandal.

14 comments
polopaula
polopaula

It does not seem to matter how many times people say horse meat is dangerous, others say no problem... Research what you eat.. All sides,

Start with Vickery Eckhoff Forbes.  Google her excellent research on horse slaughter and the meat that is produced.. And lots more out there, starting   with the Irish Report on the dangers of toxicity in Horse meat.

SandraRogersLongley
SandraRogersLongley

The point you are missing is that horses are raised as "pets" not as livestock in the food chain..therefore horses are treated with drugs that are not acceptable for human consumption..how hard is this to understand???? the drugs we all use on horses are carcenogenic and dangerous

StewartMitchell
StewartMitchell

The human cull has something to do with contaminated ruminants.  Nostradamus predicts that most will be destroyed because the genetic bomb attacks humans.

KountyKobbler
KountyKobbler

In the states  it is more likely to be used in dog or pet food.  but   you never know  what is in  ground meats.. from sheep to hog   and deer  or ram  and buffalo   you know what you think your buying  but unless you do dna testing   your chicken could be turkey   or rabbit  when its ground meat. 

straydog
straydog

The meat should have been clearly labeled as containing what it actually did--whether that was beef or a combination. This sort of secrecy is unacceptable and we need to make food vendors more accountable for the products they produce. We place heavy importance on the things we eat, yet the food industries in every country are lacking sufficient regulation (and enforcement). 

As for it being horses... I, personally, do not understand the adversity people have to consuming horses--and I'm an American. Yes, horses were a vital part of history and in the formation of our civilizations---but so were cows, pigs, dogs, ect. Horses are no different--they are prey animals--just like cows, sheep, ect., yet we elevate them for whatever reason. In fact, no one has ever been able to explain WHY eating horses is bad other than their romanticism to their use (yes, use) in history. The downside of not consuming horses are that there are a lot of horses in this world, and without the option of being consumed for food, many would be abandoned when elderly/of no use, mistreated/starved (horses are expensive to own after all) and backyard euthanized. There are dozens of articles about these things rising dramatically after horse slaughter was banned in the US. Horses live 20+ years, and are generally kept for a purpose (ie: riding)...yet many become unable to ride several years before then. What is the solution? What happens to these horses without people consuming them? A farmer cannot afford to keep around a horse that cannot pull its own weight, so to speak, and let's all face it: there are only so many homes capable of accommodating a horse, and those are rapidly dwindling as more and more horses flood rescues and as people have less money for things like owning/caring for a pet.

As long as any animal we consume is treated humanely, I don't really care what people are eating.

AndreFigueira
AndreFigueira

Horse meat is pretty nice, Eat it now and again.

ghand2
ghand2

I'm waiting with bated breadth for the results of a search for human DNA in that meat! :)

bibleverse1
bibleverse1

Another company that could have done the right thing for customers but took a different path.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

I've had horse meat and I've had beef.  There isn't a lot of difference, to be honest.  Horse meat is a touch different probably due to the differences in how they were fed.  I don't have any qualms about eating either and in products that are blended (like burgers, lasagna and other such things) rather than pure meat products (like steaks), I don't think anyone could tell the difference.

The only thing about this "scandal" that would merit prosecution is the false advertisement of what is contained in the product.  If it says beef, and isn't, then the consumer is being lied to.  That warrants legal action and intervention.  So the bottom line here is truthfully label what is in the products.  After that, it's on the consumer to decide.  If you don't truthfully label what's in it, then you deserve whatever penalty you get.

polopaula
polopaula

@KountyKobbler You have no idea what you are saying!  Research!! Horse meat has not been allowed in dog food since the 70's in the USA.  IT IS TOXIC TO DOGS... HUMANS?????  This is true.. Research before you make untrue statements.. People believe  that you know what you are saying... you do not! 

polopaula
polopaula

@straydog You need to do a little more research and investigation before you make the comments that you have made Please.  Farmers don't have horses.. Horses are pets, sport partners, eco partners, relaxation, and much like  dogs an animal that you love and loves you back.  Slaughter is not humane... most horses slaughtered are healthy, QHs, and between the age of 2-9. Old sick skinny horses are not taken for slaughter.. And the articles that you have read are those put out by the 20% of Americans who want horse slaughter for greedy reasons... Please read the other side... Google: Forbes Vickery Eckhoff
http://www.forbes.com/sites/vickeryeckhoff/2013/01/29/five-reasons-why-tescos-horse-meat-scandal-could-happen-here/

RonnieG
RonnieG

@DeweySayenoff Maybe because horse meat has been an "acceptable" meat to eat by many in Europe, is the reason so many balance horse meat with other forms of animal meat.  Preference is measured according to taste, cost, etc.  Jokes are even made about wanting to eat horse.  This is no laughing matter.  THERE IS MINIMAL ATTENTION GIVEN TO THE DANGERS TO HUMAN HEALTH!  Horse meat  is loaded with drugs and chemicals, very dangerous to human health.  One horse drug is Bute.  It never leaves a horse's body.  A serious condition called aplastic anemia is due to ingesting horse meat.  Bute was given to humans for pain in the U.S. in the 1940's.  It was subsequently banned after many cases of aplastic anemia.  Europe is doing "damage control."  Maybe the U.S. is too.  So far, no horse meat has been detected in U.S. beef. But just wait.  And wait for the lawsuits to begin. This is ((HUGE))!

polopaula
polopaula

@DeweySayenoff  The only difference maybe that horses are given drugs that are not to be given to animals intended for human consumption.  Cows are not.. Educate yourself...  or maybe die from ingesting those drugs.