Having read and heard so much now about horsemeat being found in products described as beef, I feel I need just to add my own tuppence, mainly because I feel quite a few commentators don’t seem to grasp all of the possible consequences.
First of all, to state my own stance: I would never knowingly eat horsemeat. I know all the arguments about it being just another meat like beef or sheep and that it’s eaten and enjoyed on the continent. Fine. I have no problems with people who are happy to eat it – it’s just that I prefer not to. I’ve heard it said that the Brits have a cultural aversion to eating horse as we were such a horse-loving people right from Celtic times. It’s a nice theory but other Europeans also have Celtic roots and eat horse, plus we have been a nation of many cultures since those far off times. Other theories say that we don’t like to eat it because, in Britain, it has always been associated with times of poverty – that horsemeat was only eaten in times of hunger or by the very poor. Again, maybe but I don’t think that’s the whole of the answer either. For myself, all I know is that I love horses and feel a personal attachment to them as I do not for cows, sheep or pigs. It is more akin to what I feel for my dog – and I would not eat dog meat either.
So that is the personal side accounted for, but what other objections could there be.
(1) If a product is labelled as beef, pork, spiny anteater, whatever – you want it to contain what is on the label. Fine, you may have no objection to eating horsemeat if it’s labelled as such, but do you really want to eat it when you actually thought you were tucking into a nice juicy BEEF burger? Not only that, but if horsemeat is cheaper, you’re also being diddled financially!
(2) It appears that criminal elements may be involved which means that profit is going to be waaaayyy more important than food quality and hygiene. So far it seems that all the horsemeat has come from plants that pass environmental standards… but what if some didn’t.
(3) Horse welfare. Even before this, the live transport of horses to the continent for slaughter has been an issue of concern. They are packed into lorries for days without adequate food, water or rest. By the end of their journey they are often injured, ill and even dead. They are also stressed, and it is known that high levels of stress releases certain hormones into the muscles (which will eventually affect the meat too). If horses are to be farmed for meat, then their welfare should be of the utmost importance, and the distances to abattoirs should be drastically reduced.
(4) Health dangers (related to (2) above. At the moment the scare has concentrated on one medicine, commonly known as ‘Bute’ being present in the horsemeat. This is a medicine commonly used as a painkiller and in cases of arthritis for horses but is not allowed in any meat destined for human consumption. Despite this, it has been reported that you would have to consume over 100 beefburgers containing it to feel any adverse effects. As such, although undesirable, it’s presence is not exactly a health hazard. What is more worrying is that if this chemical can get through any testing procedures (and it has been shown to be present in some horses killed in British abattoirs), what else may be entering unseen into the production process? And this isn’t just the case with horsemeat – what about other meats being illegally sold on to processing plants (I seem to remember some time ago some condemned chicken carcasses making their way into food processing plants*). If, as it now seems, much of our meat comes from abroad, what is to stop, (and this is the very worst scenario!!) that meat being from a diseased animal.
On the brighter side, hopefully this scandal will now shine a spotlight on both food testing and horse welfare. Maybe supermarkets will be more vigilant in where their meat comes from. Maybe people will start to insist on British produce, produce that can be traced clearly to its source. At the very least hopefully the general public will be more aware of how their food is produced: some may even return to traditional butchers who definitely know their beef from their horsemeat.