Agricultural ministers meeting in Brussels this week agreed that criminal activity stretching across the European continent is behind the horsemeat scandal. In response, they’ve called for still more DNA testing of the continent’s meat and meat products.
The accompanying infographic provided by the Australian Food Safety Institute shows the breadth and depth of the European horsemeat scandal.
The scandal went public January 15 when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland announced that pig and horse DNA had been found in products purportedly made from beef. Horsemeat has now been found in beef and beef products in at least 14 European Union (EU) countries.
IKEA’S Swedish meatballs, which are supposed to contain only beef and pork, were found to contain horsemeat in tests conducted by the Czech Republic. IKEA pulled the product in Europe from its take-home sales and furniture store cafeterias.
Shortly after the Irish DNA tests were announced, fresh beef sold by several of Europe’s major supermarket chains was found to contain horsemeat. Testing expanded to include frozen beef products and found horsemeat in packaged lasagnas and spaghetti Bolognese.
Testing has pulled more countries and more brands into the growing scandal. Countries now involved are as far flung as Romania and Sweden. In addition to IKEA, brands involved have included Burger King, Nestle, Bird’s Eye, Findus and many others.
Three people were arrested in the United Kingdom in mid-February, but its not likely that those suspects have total awareness of the Europe-wide horsemeat conspiracy. The horsemeat was probably being more or less routinely passed off as beef, which is much more expensive, according to health officials.
Fresh beef labeling has been more stringent in Europe since Britain and France both experience outbreaks of Mad Cow disease. European officials say whoever is passing horsemeat for beef is taking advantage of complex supply chains that are difficult to unwind.
Whenever a mislabeled product is recalled for containing horsemeat, food manufacturers say food safety is not at issue. However, there’s not much evidence that those involved in food fraud are much concerned about food safety.
What the food manufacturers are trying to say is that mistaking horsemeat for beef should not make you sick, so long as it was not a race horse treated with the painkiller known as phenylbutazone, or “bute.” So far, little if any of that has turned up in testing done by the Europeans.
Infographic credit: Mike Stewart, Australian Institute of Food Safety