Joe Gandelman: Horsing around with the beef supply in Europe
Beef contaminated with horsemeat has sparked a multi-nation controversy in Europe.
It’s no secret that the French have long been galloping gourmets. Gobbling horsemeat there dates back to the country’s 18th century revolution, when rich folks’ horses began to fill food supply gaps. Today horsemeat is still found in many stores there. The French’s appetite for it has declined. But party goers in the United Kingdom would be utterly sickened if they discovered they ate horse d’oeuvres.
In fact, that’s pretty much the situation now — or worse.
Europe’s horsemeat scandal began with traces of horsemeat found in Britain in supplies sold by the grocery giant Tesco. Then Burger King learned that it didn’t have it its way: although no one broke a tooth on a horseshoe while eating a burger, traces of horsemeat were found in the company’s British meat supplied by a company in Ireland. Burger King then bailed on its meat supplier. And then it got worse.
As more investigations throughout Europe were made — and more news reports made people wonder if their beef maybe tasted a bit suspiciously a mite too sweet — the British Food Standards agency announced that Findus’ Lasagna products contained between 60 and 100 percent horsemeat. As the scandal now reportedly touched on some 16 European countries, meat plants pointed fingers at other countries, and consumers learned how the meat they eat may be blended with meat from MANY countries.
The emerging conclusion now seemingly is that this wasn’t accident. Horsemeat was allegedly used because it was cheaper. Look for the horsemeat scandal to be a heyday for lawyers in Europe.
Could it happen here? Could someone in Pennsylvania order a sandwich and unknowingly bite into a Filly Cheesesteak?
Oklahoma horsemeat houses hope to get their hoofs in the door to legally sell horsemeat for human consumption. If SB375 passes it would scuttle a law in place since 1963 banning the possession, transportation, sale or consumption of horsemeat. Another bill, HB1999, wouldn’t repeal the old law, but would allow horsemeat produced in the state to be sold outside of Oklahoma. There is an Internet petition drive exists to defeat both bills. Meanwhile, Forbes reports, in addition to Oklahoma, “other western states are busy introducing bills to open horse slaughter plants for human consumption here in the U.S.”
So what’s bad about horsemeat?
Aside from concerns about how horses digest their food, the possible presence of the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazon, and religions bans (a Papal ban in 732 and it not being kosher), horses fall into the class of animals such as dogs and cats that much (but not all) of the world consider special due to their bonding with humans. Not that this is consistent: a lamb or a pig can lovingly bond with a human, too. But horses are special. Plus: at any given moment, somewhere in the world humans are eating almost anything — even insects such as worms.
The issues concern choice and criminality. Consumers want the right to choose the meat they put into their bodies. They want to know that the meat they buy is real — that hot dog is made of beef or pork or turkey, and not cocker spaniel. Those who try to sneak in other kids of meat must suffer consequences. Lawmakers that try to change laws will have to get by popular sentiment to get the votes.
It’s all about society’s choices, respecting those choices, criminality — and rejecting lame excuses.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.