Saturday, January 19, 2013

Inhumane, poorly regulated and bad for human health. How did horsemeat end up in Irish burgers?


Irish agriculture hit the news worldwide this week with the discovery of horse DNA in supermarket burgers. The affair began on Tuesday when the Food Safety Authority here released results on tests for porcine and equine DNA in 27 Irish supermarket burgers. 13 tested positive for horse DNA.  The product with the highest level (29 per cent) of equine DNA was Tesco Everyday Value burgers. They cost 1.41 for eight burgers but have now been removed from the marketplace. 
These particular burgers contained 17 ingredients: meat content (63 per cent), onion (10 per cent),wheat flour, water, beef fat, soya protein isolate, salt, onion powder, yeast, sugar, barley malt extract, garlic powder, white pepper extract, celery extract and onion extract. One of these ingredients contained horse DNA via what is now identified as a supply chain in the Netherlands or Spain. It was most likely some kind of protein powder filler which are common in burger manufacture. This things go largely under our food radar. All week I've been writing and researching this topic with the discovery  that horse meat could in fact be endemic in the European food chain.
Not only that but horsemeat itself may not be safe to eat. Irish farmers have to jump through hoops to ensure the traceability of their cattle, but the horse trade is subject to little or no regulation and forged documents and passports are common, especially with horses coming from North America and killed in Canadian or Mexican slaughter plants. In Ireland horses are stolen and shipped live as far as Italy where they go into the European food chain, some having been treated with bute or other drugs which are banned substances. 
Ingredient suppliers who may be buying this meat are not subject to the same safeguards as farmers, especially when it comes to low-grade animal protein. That's how horse DNA ended up in Irish burgers. What else it is an ingredient of we will have to wait and see. 
Today I published an analysis of this mess in The Irish Times. You can read it at the link below. In the meantime remember buy local where you can, keep your supply chain short and keep away from processed food. My feeling is that the FSAI's tests on burger meat is only the beginning and authorities must investigate the horsemeat and ingredient trade at large to get to the bottom of what could potentially be an enormous case of food fraud. 

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