Food inspectors have found horsemeat in frozen hamburgers at stores across Ireland and the UK.
The discovery prompted supermarket chains to pull millions of burgers from the market. The Guardian writes that inspectors found “very low levels” of horse DNA in nine of the ten burgers they sampled. But the meat content of the tenth burger was found to be 29 percent horse.
Inspectors also found plenty of pig DNA in the “beef” burgers — arguably less of a concern for consumers in the UK and Ireland, who largely disapprove of eating horse. As Alan Reilly, chief executive of the Republic of Ireland’s food safety authority, told the BBC: “In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger.”
To further quell public concerns, Irish Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said, ”There is no food safety risk”
Considering it has not yet been made public where the horsemeat in question came from, that statement may not necessarily be true.
The European Union has strict requirements for what drugs can and cannot be administered to horses destined for slaughter. A recent Latitude News investigation uncovered that while drug-residue standards are strictly enforced on horses slaughtered within the EU, animals slaughtered outside of the EU are a beast of a different nature.
Each year more than 100,000 American horses — pets, carnival horses, racehorses — are slaughtered in Canada and Mexico, which is perfectly legal. Here’s the problem: because Americans don’t raise horses as meat, they are commonly given drugs that are banned for meat horses. For example, phenylbutazone, nicknamed “horse aspirin,” is the most commonly administered anti-inflammatory drug given to horses in the U.S. — it’s also a human carcinogen.
The biggest market for U.S. horses slaughtered in Canada and Mexico? The European Union.
Of course, this does not mean that the particular horsemeat in question this week came from the U.S., or that it contained carcinogens. Authorities in the UK and Ireland, as well as meat distributors, are promising investigations to trace the meat back to its source.
But even tracing the meat to its source could leave ambiguous questions about the meat’s safety. A recent investigation by the Humane Society International indicates that, for Europeans who intentionally eat horsemeat, they may have no way of knowing where that meat comes from. HSI studied retailers in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, where horsemeat is more commonly eaten than in the UK and Ireland. The investigation found that whole cuts of horsemeat indeed are clearly labeled with the country of origin.
But processed convenience foods containing horsemeat are not always labeled with the country of origin. In theory, the EU food safety net catches drug-tainted meat before it hits the stores. But Latitude News found that the trade route from the North America to Europe is riddled with falsified documents in the U.S., lax enforcement in Canada and Mexico, and a seeming unwillingness to take action against negligent export nations by the European Commission.
Latitude News will continue to report on the origins of the horsemeat-tainted burgers. In the meantime, to read more about American horses that should not have been eaten, like the one in the photo above, read up on the shady trade in American horsemeat.