You’re probably aware that an English supermarket was recently found to be distributing hamburger that contained 29% horse meat.
Retailers in the UK and Ireland initially recalled approximately 10 million pounds of hamburger after three beef processors were discovered distributing hamburger patties containing both pig and horse DNA.
It was DNA testing as part of a quality assurance test that originally revealed the presence of horsemeat in beef products in mid-January. As of today, nothing definitive has been proven regarding the scandal, but all of Europe’s health ministers are gathering in Brussels to talk about what should be done. As many as 16 EU countries have revealed that beef sold in those countries contains horsemeat.
There is no government-based DNA testing of meat here in the US (although the technology is available here and in use by private companies selling Black Angus beef). And while it’s unlikely that any of our own beef contains horse, since there are currently no slaughter plants in the US, one has to wonder about the past.
As horsemen, we’ve likely all given our horses bute, at one time or another. Many of us have administered it more times than we can count. That’s been the big lie within the bigger lie of “100% beef,” certainly abroad and likely here in the US as well.
Phenylbutazone was originally developed for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and gout in humans, but was withdrawn from human consumption decades ago, after it was found that one in 30,000 people given bute developed aplastic anemia, a fatal disease if untreated.
There are currently international checks to prevent phenylbutazone from entering the human food supply. Nevertheless, the UK’s chief medical inspector, Dame Sally Davies, was recently quoted as saying “there is nothing to suggest a safety risk to consumers who may have eaten the products [contaminated with horse meat].” Shades of the mad cow disease scandal and the equally botched attempts of UK officials to address the real issues as they attempt to reassure the public. Will they ever learn?
Interestingly, in September of 2010, bute was discovered in cattle samples from two different farms in Northern Ireland. We eat plenty of cattle here in the US. In fact, we kill 10 billion animals per year to consume as beef. And aside from selected Black Angus, we have no idea what we’re actually eating or how contaminated it is.
Let us not forget that in the US, deadly E. coli is not considered a contaminant — it is considered an adulterant. But only in ground beef. In whole cuts of beef, it’s perfectly okay. Salmonella is also not an adulterant. It’s okay, too. And all food recalls in the US are voluntary on the part of the manufacturer or distributer.
Lack of funding for USDA inspections, for whatever they might be worth, effectively eliminated the horse slaughter industry here in the US. And although the spending cut for those inspections ended last September, no money has currently been allocated to facilitate them. If and when it is, I bet it won’t include DNA testing.
The traceability of contaminants in our ground meat supply is considerably worse than it is in Europe. It’s little comfort that the USDA’s Economic Research Service produced a document entitled Traceability in the U.S. Food Supply. As it states in regards to the beef industry, “a system for tracking each and every input and process with a degree of precision for every objective would be virtually impossible.” This statement of protest paves the way for a cost-benefit analysis. No surprise there. The words “market” and “marketing” appear three times in the “Factors Affecting Benefits.” The word “consumer” appears nowhere.
As usual, if we want to understand how 100% beef became maybe some horse, we need to understand why. It’s easy if you follow the money. According to Food Safety News, at current prices, 2.3 pounds of beef costs about $5.36, while 2.3 pounds of horsemeat costs just $1.21. No wonder our horses are shipped to other countries to be killed. Or why 10 times as many horses were slaughtered last year in Ireland as there were just five years ago. Or why almost twice as many horses were slaughtered in the UK as there were just three years ago.
There are more reasons than ever to fill your plate with plants. And to think twice before you give your horse away to anyone.
Elaine L said:
I find as I get older when I look at a steak or hamburger I tend more often than not to say, “ugh”. Instead I look to beans, yogurt, etc to replace meat. Fish is wonderful, but now I have stopped eating anything tuna because of the nuclear contamination from the tsunami. The rampant monetary greed of the world is destroying everything we hold dear.
All food has its risks. The most common cause of foodborne illness is leafy greens (I think we should eat more of them anyway). Tuna’s high on the food chain, so it, along with swordfish, has more mercury than other seafood. And of course, green tea — the trendy healthy food of the moment — may carry more radiation than any other foodstuff, depending on where it’s grown. There are no truly, completely healthy choices, just compromises. Like all of life’s choices.
The most common reason foodborne illness is on leafy greens is due to contamination from growing/harvesting methods, not due to the plants themselves. I think the news media has unnecessarily scared people into believing the plants themselves are bad. If growing/harvesting/storing/shipping methods were improved, there would be very little contamination.
I can’t remember the last time I had beef, and I also can’t remember the last time I purchased meat from the store. We raise or hunt our meat (raise chickens, turkeys and rabbits) so I know exactly what’s on my plate and I know exactly what goes into the animals I raise, feed and care for every day. Since we started only eating meat we raise or hunt, we eat a lot less meat and I feel so much better physically.
Great point, Jenn. Thanks for clarifying the cause of contamination on leafy greens. I agree with you that the media (and I) neglect to point out that if it weren’t for the meat industry, our greens would be far safer.
“Eat local” doesn’t get any better than what you’re doing!
The only way to make horses safe for consumption is to raise them solely for meat, that’s the only way they could ensure that the horses haven’t consumed chemicals that are dangerous to humans. How many farms are there out there in the world that do that? Not many. The worst part is that the horses that get sent to the slaughterhouses in the greatest quantity (at least on this continent) are racehorses. The one type of animal that is stuffed chock full of dangerous chemicals.
Say it isn’t so about the green tea, Katie. I love green tea 😦
The hypocrisy of the horsemeat industry is extreme, particularly because of the drugs, which as you point out, are more plentiful in racehorses.
Not all green tea is subject to nuclear fallout, but some of the samples tested months after the disaster could not be exported. We do have standards for acceptable levels of cesium here in the US — they are, not surprisingly, above those of Japan and the EU. Unfortunately, our trust must again rely on sporadic testing by governments and manufacturers whose agendas are different from our own as consumers.
It pays to try to “vet” your food as much as you can. That (along with energy conservation) is the main reason to produce our own food or buy local. Otherwise, it’s best to find data and suppliers that you think you can trust.
Did you know that more than three-fourths of the honey sold in grocery stores here in the US is not honey, according to USDA standards? That’s why trust may be hard to come by.
This just in — EU will test beef in 27 countries for horse meat and will check for bute (I don’t know all the details).
Bute has now been found in meat from 8 horses killed in the UK, some of it might have entered the food chain in France. Of course, medical officers are all rushing to explain that the quantity found, 1.9mg of bute per kg of horsemeat, “poses very little risk to human health”. Ah well, that’s ok then….
I don’t eat meat myself, but it just proves once again to avoid any type of processed food
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