The Blame Game: Europe’s Horse Crisis Is Giving a Viable Food Source a Bad Name

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Trigger was a friend, a star, and probably some French person's eventual dinner.
Trigger was a friend, a star, and probably some French person's eventual dinner. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis

Who knew something as innocuous as frozen lasagna would ever set off a huge international food scandal? After European officials discovered that lots of meat labeled as "beef" was actually "horse" (or possibly donkey), people are, you know, pissed off. Rightfully so, but the problem here is that horsemeat is getting an even worse reputation than it already had, when it’s the world’s broken food maufacturing systems that are the real problem.

Trigger was a friend, a star, and probably some French person's eventual dinner.
Trigger was a friend, a star, and probably some French person's eventual dinner. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis

Obviously it’s vile to think that the food chain is so thoroughly compromised that horsemeat could more or less sneak in and go undetected for so long. But the same uproar probably wouldn’t be quite so bad if the mislabled "beef" had turned out to be something more palatable like ground turkey or pork.

Horsemeat itself is fine — it’s lean and mild, like subtle venison. But while Americans and Brits stigmatize eating it because horses are companion animals, the real problem with horses as food is that the supply is underegulated. Even traditional horse-loving countries try to avoid old racehorses coming from America because of fears that they’re too drugged up to be edible. In other words, Americans don’t eat horses because they’re our friends; France avoids American horses because they probably taste like Lance Armstrong.

If there were ever a time for locavores to set down their grass-fed steaks and shout, "We told you so," this is it.

Horsemeat already had a bad enough reputation — remember the uproar at M. Wells Dinette when the restaurant hinted it was going to serve horse tartare? — and nobody new is going to be persuaded to try it after reading repeatedly how tainted the meat supply could be. But the reality is that there are only so many chicken breasts and pork bellies to go around.

Horse Meat Probe Spurs Regulation Blizzard as Grocers Test Beef [Bloomberg]
We’ve done nothing wrong, say Romanian horse abattoirs [Telegraph UK]
Anger Flares in Europe as Scandal Over Meat Widens [NYT]
’Criminal conspiracy’ blamed for European horse-in-burger scandal [NBC]

Whether or not people decide to start really raising horses for the sole purpose of eventually eating them (it seems unlikely), the real issue here is that the whole debacle yet again highlights how far away consumers in industrial nations are from their food sources. Here, according to Bloomberg, is the path the tainted meat took:

The prepared meals sold by Findus were manufactured at a Luxembourg factory owned by French company Comigel, France’s consumer and anti-fraud office said Feb. 9. Comigel’s supplier was Poujol, owned by Arcadie Sud-Ouest. Poujol bought the frozen meat from a Cypriot trader that sub-contracted a Dutch trader who sourced the meat from a slaughterhouse and a meat packer in Romania, according to the regulator.

Obviously it’s vile to think that the food chain is so thoroughly compromised that horsemeat could more or less sneak in and go undetected for so long. But the same uproar probably wouldn’t be quite so bad if the mislabled "beef" had turned out to be something more palatable like ground turkey or pork.

Horsemeat itself is fine — it’s lean and mild, like subtle venison. But while Americans and Brits stigmatize eating it because horses are companion animals, the real problem with horses as food is that the supply is underegulated. Even traditional horse-loving countries try to avoid old racehorses coming from America because of fears that they’re too drugged up to be edible. In other words, Americans don’t eat horses because they’re our friends; France avoids American horses because they probably taste like Lance Armstrong.

If there were ever a time for locavores to set down their grass-fed steaks and shout, "We told you so," this is it.

Horsemeat already had a bad enough reputation — remember the uproar at M. Wells Dinette when the restaurant hinted it was going to serve horse tartare? — and nobody new is going to be persuaded to try it after reading repeatedly how tainted the meat supply could be. But the reality is that there are only so many chicken breasts and pork bellies to go around.

Horse Meat Probe Spurs Regulation Blizzard as Grocers Test Beef [Bloomberg]
We’ve done nothing wrong, say Romanian horse abattoirs [Telegraph UK]
Anger Flares in Europe as Scandal Over Meat Widens [NYT]
’Criminal conspiracy’ blamed for European horse-in-burger scandal [NBC]