Horse meat in supermarket burgers- why the long faces?

From stable to table…or, only fools eat horses?

Pure coincidence, but two recent posts concerned Black Beauty and Crazy Horse .. Enjoyable though all the jokes have been, this has been the week many British people may be re-assessing their relationship with meat.  I include here Barry Gormley’s (condensed) take on the dilemma:

“The vital question concerns how the quality of food is ensured in Ireland and Britain. In a recent investigation it was found that several big-name franchises in Ireland and the UK had been selling burgers which contained traces of horse and pig DNA. The shops involved were Tesco, Iceland, Dunnes Stores, Lidl and Aldi.

The items came from three major processing plants – Liffy Meats and Silvercrest Foods in Ireland, and Dalepack Hambleton plant in England. Of the 27 burgers analysed, a surprising 22 were found to contain traces of pig, while 10 contained horse. One sample from Tesco revealed 29% of horse, while 21 other beef products had pig DNA…

At present there is no evidence that the chains involved were aware of the other animal meat in their beef products. However this only raises questions about how the meat is screened once it has left the supplier. It’s also quite unsettling to think that items purchased from a major outlet might contain anything not listed on the label. Customers who take the time to read the information on a pack naturally expect to know exactly what they’re paying for, and so they should, since allowing anything less could result in absolutely anything making its way into our food.

Although TFSAI have stated that there is no health risk to the general public, this only means we were lucky this time. They also pointed out that Ireland possibly has the best traceability in the world when it comes to meat, however this could easily have sparked an epidemic had the meat been diseased (for example, remember the BSE scare). Also, the presence of undeclared meat in consumer food is extremely unacceptable to many people. For one thing, there are many religious groups who abstain from eating the flesh of certain creatures. In particular, a devout Muslim or Jew, at least of certain denominations, would understandably be outraged to find that even small traces of pig were sold to them without their knowledge.

However, the problem extends beyond groups who refuse to eat pork. A Hindu who believes cows are sacred might well be concerned that the same thing could happen in reverse, with food he/she believes acceptable for them and their family secretly containing beef. Indeed, the ability to read exactly what goes into your meal is a requirement for anyone who abstains from any kind of food, from vegetarians, to those on diets, and, most important of all, those with severe food allergies.

This situation is also concerning from an animal rights point of view. Without knowing where a particular piece of meat came from, it is difficult to ensure the animal was treated in a humane fashion. While there is a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA (since pigs are processed at the same plants, traces of their meat could have gotten mixed in with that from other animals), there seems no way to account for such a large amount of horse to finding its way into beef products, since none of the companies involved sell meat from horses, nor is it even a common food product in Ireland or the UK.

At present, we can have no idea where these animals came from, under what conditions they were kept, or even the method that was used in slaughtering them.

The fact that this could happen at some of the largest shopping franchises in Ireland and Britain would seem to indicate a problem in the process of meat production. Although there appears to be no current danger, we can’t know that similar instances won’t occur in the future, which could have disastrous consequences. It seems imperative; therefore, that some effort be made to further ensure the quality of meat before it ends up on someone’s plate. The fact standards are lower elsewhere will be of small comfort, to someone (potentially) made dangerously ill.”

P. S. Although no direct comparison would be possible, if it is true that 1% of Tesco’s share value (approx. £300 million) has fallen, remember that in 2011 figures reveal they sold £481 million worth of ‘beef’ burgers..

Thanks to: Barry Gormley (16/1/13) The mane headlines: horse meat discovered in burgers