As if you didn’t have enough reasons to be grossed out by Taco Bell, the company’s European outlets have withdrawn their beef products from the market after testing revealed that some of its “beef” was more than 10 percent horsemeat. ¡No quiero Taco Bell con carne de caballo!
The incident comes in a larger wave of beef recalls because of horsemeat contamination. The Guardian reports that the food industry has so far tested 5,340 products since the initial scandal broke in January. Any product that contains one percent or more of horse DNA will be banned. So far 17 have failed that test.
Two other companies also recently recalled their beef products: Birds Eye, which produces a “Traditional Spaghetti Bolognese and Beef Lasagna” that we can now safely assume is no longer traditional or entirely beef, and Brakes, which withdrew its “Spicy Beef Skewer.”
In a statement to the BBC, Brakes said: “We are introducing a new ongoing DNA testing programme that will ensure no minced beef meat product can leave our facilities without first having been cleared by DNA testing.”
Last week, IKEA admitted that some of the frozen meatballs it sells at supermarkets in the UK had been tainted as well. Thankfully for all you Big Mac lovers, McDonald’s has so far found no traces of horse.
The big picture
So what does it all mean? While many were surprised at how widespread contamination turned out to be, John Sorenson, a professor of animal studies in Australia, says the scandal was “entirely predictable.” In a post on the Australian blog The Conversation, Sorenson points to problems in the meat industry’s supply chain, writing that “deregulated industries are allowed to police themselves as they seek to obtain the greatest profits using the cheapest ingredients.” (He also vigorously opposes the consumption of all animals, horse or otherwise.)
Sorenson notes that while only one-third of the “beef” products initially tested contained horse DNA, 85 percent were found to have DNA from pigs. While the public was shocked by the horsemeat, no one seemed overly concerned by the swine. But Sorenson argues that the two problems are equally severe, especially because they suggest unsanitary conditions at meat processing plants that don’t clean their machines properly. He continues:
Mislabelling the flesh of some animals as that of others is only part of the problem. Adulteration of meat is widespread, especially as consumers demand low prices. To make more profits, processors add other cheap material to bulk up the meat, injecting water, fat and concentrated proteins, obtained from the skin and fat of pigs and cows and identified as “seasoning.” So adulteration of meat is legal and widespread. Legally, in UK, beefburgers can contain less than half beef. Taco Bell’s taco meat filling reportedly contained only 35 percent beef and the rest consists of chemicals and industrial additives.
A new frontier for horsemeat
This report from RiaNovosti points to a potential new home for horsemeat: America.
Domestic horse slaughter has been effectively banned in the U.S since 2007. But the slaughter has not abated; over 100,000 American horses are slaughtered in Canada and Mexico each year, with the primary market for that meat being the European Union.
American entrepreneurs are looking to take a bite out of the Canadian and Mexican market by pushing the feds to allow slaughter in the U.S. Some high-end U.S.restaurants are allegedly clamoring for fresh horsemeat, and a food processor is pushing hard to open a slaughterhouse in New Mexico. That processor says without any red tape they could hire 100 people immediately.
But when it comes to horsemeat, it turns out, there is nothing but red tape, and more than one way to step around it. Even if the New Mexico facility opens, a recent Latitude News investigation found that American horse are given drugs that are all but untraceable from the track to the slaughterhouse. Some of those drugs, like phenylbutazone, are banned from the human food chain.
Stay tuned…it seems this horsemeat story isn’t going anywhere.