There were many amusing headlines and tweets covering the recent horsemeat scandal. They ranged from, ‘So hungry you could eat a horse? We’ve got you covered. Tesco, every little helps’ to ‘My Lidl Pony’. The puns plastered across Twitter certainly lightened the mood and clouded the more serious moral and religious issues that occurred with this revelation.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) was responsible for the discovery. They chose to test various meat products after having been suspicious of the contents of some of the goods sold at numerous supermarkets. The results claimed that out of a batch of twenty-seven samples ten contained horsemeat. In addition, out of a batch of thirty-one samples of ‘beef meat’ products, twenty-one tested positive for pig DNA.
Tesco’s involvement has hit the headlines hardest, but Lidl, Iceland, and Aldi in Ireland also stocked these questionable beef products. This is mostly through their ‘own brand’ burgers, as horsemeat accounted for as much as twenty-nine percent in some Tesco value burgers. In light of these discoveries Tesco stated that they were working to ‘ensure it does not happen again’. An estimated ten million budget burgers were immediately removed from supermarket shelves when the problem became known. Whilst Tesco removed twenty-six different products, most of these were ‘own brand’.
Even though they should have been fully aware of what they were selling, the blame cannot be solely placed on the retailers, as they do not personally produce the meat. The FSAI claimed that the contaminated beef products were distributed from three processing plants. Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods are Ireland based companies, whilst Dalepak Hambleton is situated in Yorkshire. The ABP Food Group, who own Silvercrest, chose to make a statement and claimed to be ‘extremely disappointed’ by the findings. Furthermore, they have ‘withdrawn all contaminated products’. Eager to not appear to be completely responsible they went on to say, “What we thought we had bought was not we had received”. It appears that their overseas third party suppliers are largely to blame, as they sent the meat over to the Irish processing plant.
Attitudes towards the consumption of horsemeat are clearly different on the continent. So, what may seem like an easy option for bulking out mass produced meat in the Netherlands, has turned into the slaughter of Black Beauty when being discovered in Britain. Eating horsemeat is often viewed as cruel and taboo by the British as we have domesticated and grown attached to horses. The British attachment to them and dislike of using them as meat is generally stronger than most other countries. As a high protein, low fat meat, horse is immensely popular overseas. Consumption between China, Mexico, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Argentina, Italy and Brazil reaches around 4.7 million per year.
The main issue with the current revelation is that the meat variation was unknown to the consumer. Therefore, those who believe eating horse to be morally wrong were not given the choice to opt out. This is a clear issue when concerning religion too. Jewish and Muslim customers, who do not eat pork, could have been unknowingly exposed to it, as the samples show a high percentage of products as being contaminated with pig DNA.
This undoubtedly results in a lack of trust with suppliers and retailers, as they did not detect the contamination. The labour shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh viewed trading standards cuts as the primary reason for the error. Creagh claimed that because of them, faults were ‘less likely to be detected’.
Hopefully the media coverage of this scandal has been sufficient enough that regardless of the party at fault, this is a mistake that will not be repeated.