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Is U.S. Beef Safe From Europe’s Expanding Horsemeat Crisis?

Are escalating beef prices tempting suppliers worldwide to substitute horsemeat for beef or do only a few European criminals engage in the practice? Only the kind of DNA testing Ireland used to discover the problem can tell and it does not appear the U.S. government does any of that.

If a suspect supplier were trying to hide horsemeat in U.S. beef products, experts say our defense would probably come from private testing that exists to make sure bison is bison or that Certified Black Angus is really Black Angus. It’s the way U.S. beef brands are protected in the market.

Since there has not been any horse legally slaughtered in the U.S. for food in more than a half dozen years, it’s likely that ground beef and ground pork at your local meat market are 100 percent, unless you’ve ordered a meatloaf mix.

If USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has anything going on in response to the horsemeat crisis in Europe, the agency has declined an opportunity to talk about it with Food Safety News.

Tomorrow, all of Europe’s health ministers will gather in Brussels to talk about what should be done about the problem that has spread from Ireland to other European Union nations.

The EU is asking all Irish meat processors to cooperate with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in conducting DNA testing on all products. It was Irish DNA testing conducted as a quality assurance test that caught the horsemeat contamination of beef products in mid-January.

The problem has worsened since then. Tesco’s frozen Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese, which is supposed to contain only 100 percent Irish beef, was found in some samples to contain more than 60 percent horsemeat.

The French Comigel factory, the same plant producing Findus beef lasagna, which was also found to include 100 percent horsemeat in DNA testing, made it. As for the source of the horsemeat that’s been getting into Europe’s beef products, nothing definitive has been proven.

Polish and Romanian authorities are cooperating in the investigations, both in Ireland and at the EU level. Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta says any fraud that might be involved in horsemeat being labeled as beef did not happen in his country and he’s angered by the suggestion.

Dutch and Cypriot traders might also be involved, possibly by supplying a French firm that in turn provided product to Comigel’s Luxembourg factory.

Owen Paterson, Britain’s environmental secretary, says Europe’s horsemeat crisis is one of “fraud and conspiracy against the public.” He says it is probably being carried out by “criminal elements.”

The economics of such fraud are easy to figure. At current prices, 2.3 pounds of beef costs about $5.36. The same amount of horsemeat goes for $1.21. But EU investigators are finding it’s not a straight line between horse slaughterhouses and retail counters.

As messy as it is getting, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Monday issued a statement saying there is yet no evidence of a food safety concern. It said risk managers across Europe are conducting DNA tests, but said so far, the crisis was one raising the issues of “false labeling, food quality, and tractability in the EU food chain.”

The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) said the horsemeat problem was “a very serious issue.” It said the frozen burgers from Tesco and lasagna from Findus are likely linked to suppliers in Ireland and France. FSA said it was working with authorities in other countries to get to the root of the problem.

The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has joined FSA in the investigation. FSA has ordered additional DNA testing in England, Scotland and Wales. It has also issued instructions to schools, hospitals, caterers and consumers to avoid contaminated products.

While horsemeat has been the major problem, the DNA testing in Ireland also discovered some pig DNA in beef products, a problem for Jews and Muslims because the dietary practices of their religions forbid consuming pork.

As many as 16 EU countries have now discovered horsemeat labeled as beef. The EU allows easy movement of food products across the borders of its 27 member counties.

Benoit Hamon, France’s consumer affairs minister, plans to share the results of his country’s investigation on Wednesday.

© Food Safety News
  • I wouldn’t discount issues with this country’s food supply. We do get beef from countries that allow horse slaughter (Canada comes to mind). And there is a group actively attempting to open up horse slaughter plants in this country. If this happens, then we’re facing the same problems. 

    More so, as you point out, because we don’t use the sophisticated testing practiced in Ireland. 

    Am really curious as to the source of the horse meat. Hopefully they’ll be able to cut through the smoke screens and discover it.  

  • Horses from the U.S. go to Mexico. Mexico sends beef to the U.S.   packaged ground beef in the stores shows on the label:  Canada orMexico.  The Country of Origin Labeling requires the name of the country where meat is from.   Packaged beef I have seen in the stores says: Canada or Mexico.   So U.S. beef eaters may be eating horses??

  • crookedstick

    Any meat or meat products coming through Mexico have a possibility of being adulterated. Where do you think all those horses end-up after being slaughtered there?

  • ziggypop

    There is a very good reason why the cattlemen and pork meat packers want to do their own inspections.