‘Where’s the Beef’ … for Real

Shouldn’t we be able to trust the food labels? That’s the real question here. As a Brit transplanted a very long time ago here in the U.S., I am gobsmacked by the latest events in the UK with the horse meat scandal. The horse meat was originally found in beef burgers in supermarkets in Ireland in November, 2012 when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland confirmed horse DNA in a third of beef burgers and additionally, pig DNA was found in 85 percent of the beef burgers.

More testing has proven that horse has been found in beef products from DNA tracing all the way up to 100 percent horse meat instead of beef. Across Europe, testing has shown positive results for horse meat in beef across 16 countries including, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Sweden and the UK.

Current research proves the problem is much bigger than imagined as more testing is being done across Europe. Although three arrests have been made in the UK, it seems the problem is more wide spread than ever imagined and that this is just, sadly the tip of the iceberg. And no one seems to be taking blame, but lots of finger pointing is going on.

Romania is being blamed initially for the export of horse meat. Romania denies wrong doing as they say the horse meat was properly labeled when it left their country. The French company, Spanghero, is being blamed for profiting by selling cheaper horse meat in the guise of beef. Spanghero, is denying blame for knowingly distributing 750 tons of horse meat in the guise of beef to 28 companies in 13 countries after being accused by the French government.

Burger King and big food distributors have been affected besides supermarket chains like Birds Eye, Nestle and Sodexo, the largest caterer in the UK supplying hundreds of schools, nursing homes, military bases, prisons and sporting venues.

Why would this happen you might ask? Bottom Line: corruption and big profits! A kilo of beef costs about $5.36 versus $1.21 for the same amount of horse meat. The full extent of the marketplace deception probably won’t be fully disclosed as it appears this could have been going on for years based on the numbers coming out.

Here in the United States, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have reassured us that it’s highly unlikely, that beef adulterated with horse meat could happen because we don’t import meat from the affected countries and because there are no domestic suppliers that currently slaughter horses. Additionally, the USDA has strict labeling and inspection standards for imported meat.

That brings up the point as to whether horse slaughter for consumption is legal here in the U.S.? Actually, yes, it is. A five year ban on slaughter of horses for meat was lifted by President Obama in November 2011. Although the ban has been lifted, there is no horse slaughtering plant open currently. It seems that although it’s legal, it’s hard to open a horse slaughter house as funding is not provided by the USDA for inspection programs.

That brings up the question; Is horse meat OK to eat? Yes, it’s fine. In actuality, horse meat is a healthy meat choice if it has not been adulterated by steroids and pain killers that could be found in racing horses. The taste and texture is similar to beef and one would be hard pressed to tell the difference between horse and beef. I speak from experience from living in Spain, after enjoying one of the lovely menú del día, three-course meal specials and not realizing that I’d eaten horse meat until my dining companions told me otherwise.

On a personal level, I would never willingly choose to eat horse meat as culturally, it grosses me out and seems so taboo. I think of horses as a majestic animal not to be considered in the food chain. In contrast, I much enjoy rabbit and lamb, which can gross out some of my friends culturally. This is a choice that we should be allowed to make by reading the labels. And that’s the point, we should have the right to “trust” the food labels by the food companies and be allowed to make our own dietary choices whether they be guided by religious or cultural decisions. Beef should be beef, not pork, kangaroo or horse. I guess this horse meat controversy has put new meaning onto the expression, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.”

About the Author

Juliet Bodinetz is executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 30 years industry and training experience. She and her team of instructors specialize in food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area., or 443-838-7561. For latest food safety tips: Become a fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS

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