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Horse Meat Scandal Envelops Europe

Betrayal, mystery, controversy, and a host of characters as big as Europe -- it's no story; it's the ever-widening horse meat scandal.

horse eye

Photo: nathanmac87 (Flickr)

Although horses are not generally consumed in the U.K., the practice is not uncommon in nearby France and Italy.

British omnivores were horrified last week when it came to light that many common beef products sold in the U.K. had been tainted with horse meat.

In many cases, the adulteration went beyond trace contamination; samples of one popular brand of frozen lasagna were found to contain between 60 and 100 percent horse meat!

Cultural, Pharmacological Anxieties

Horse meat’s status in Britain as cultural taboo is in no small part to blame for consumer anxieties, but some are also arguing that eating equine flesh is potentially dangerous. Phenylbutazone — a drug routinely administered to horses for its analgesic and antipyretic effects — is generally considered unfit for human consumption.

Officials argue the amount of phenylbutazone (or “bute”) that could be present in the meat is likely to be very small, and the risk miniscule.

Passing The Buck

In response to public outrage, The British Food Standards Agency has demanded all beef sellers test their products for horse DNA. So far, contaminated supplies have been definitively traced to France and Ireland.

The French and Irish, meanwhile, have pointed fingers in the direction of producers in Romania and Poland.

Thursday, three people were detained in connection with the scandal in Britain under the Fraud Act. If convicted, they could face hefty fines and up to two years imprisonment. Investigations are ongoing in France.

Read More:

  • U.K. Slaughterhouses Raided As Europe’s Horse Meat Scandal Widens (NPR)
  • UK arrests, French investigation in horse meat scandal (CNN)
  • The Irish Horse Meat Mystery (Bloomberg Businessweek)
  • Horse Meat Scandal: Is the Era of Cheap Food Over? (New York Times)
Liz Leslie

Liz Leslie is a journalist based in Chicago. When she's not writing about food, she's likely eating food. Or dreaming about food.

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