European health officials have reined in meat suppliers after a recent horse meat scandal that rocked the continent and galloped across every major media outlet. In November, tests conducted by food safety authorities all over Europe revealed traces of horse and pig meat in many products sold as beef. This led to an investigation, the discovery of massive coverups and a call to reform the meat industry.
On February 19, Nestlé, the largest global food company, announced it was recalling some of the beef pasta meals it sells in Spain and Italy. Why? As it turns out, some of their products marked as “beef” actually contained horse DNA. One major English food store, Tesco, has been under fire for having horse meat in their Value beefburgers.
All over Europe, suppliers and meat handlers have been scrutinized and forced to remove their products from the public sphere. Reports show that some beef products are actually 100% horse meat. Supermarkets, schools and hospitals have halted their distribution of frozen meat items.
As investigators search for answers as to how so many people were deceived by fraudulently labeled beef products, it has become increasingly clear that the production channels through which meat travels are not governed closely enough. Different suppliers source their meat from different countries, and there are few regulations that monitor what actually ends up on the shelf.
For example, major French food processing company Comigel was employed to supply beef for a beef lasagna frozen dinner dish for another company, Findus. Before the product could be found on shelves in grocery stores in Sweden, France and the U.K., the job passed through Luxembourg, Spain, Cyprus, Holland, Romania, back to Luxembourg and through Spain again. Apparently, the meat that ends up in a home freezer in London has likely passed through as many as five different countries, some twice, without being monitored. Thankfully, eating horse meat is unlikely to cause any health complications, though in extremely high doses, the equine anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone, or “bute,” can cause blood disease. Consumers, however, have a right to know what they are eating and shouldn’t feel as though a trip to the frozen food aisle is a mystery.
As of now, it appears unlikely that you’ll find horse meat on your plate in the United States. Unlike in many European countries, there are few horse meat suppliers here to contaminate our beef. Still, the U.S has been charged with exporting many of the horses that were eventually mistreated and served as beef to countless European families.
This scandal has brought to light the problems plaguing the meat industry around the world, and will likely result in changes to the wholesale system. After all, would you continue to buy your favorite frozen meal if it may contain horse meat? I know what I’d do. I’d say neigh.