Monday, February 25, 2013

The Horse-Meat Controversy

I'm currently meatless and beginning my week 2 of 4 in protest of this issue. I'm sure you've heard about horse-meat being found in beef products labelled as "beef". There's also skepticism about the issue being "potentially" an issue in North America as well. I'm throwing in my (more than) 2-cents on how I feel, the issue, the news coverage--and of course--the big picture in regards to a sustainable food industry.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill today made a statement to the Assembly to update members on the incident regarding the discovery of equine DNA in beef products. ~ Monday, 18 February 2013

...She said: “My Department delivers meat hygiene official controls on behalf of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in approved slaughterhouses, and other establishments. Senior officials from my Department and FSA maintain regular formal and informal contact to ensure consistent and effective delivery to the agreed standard, and the FSA performs regular checks and independent audits to ensure the quality of work delivered on its behalf...She said: “The horsemeat controversy has now become a pan-European investigation. An intense investigation into the traceability of the adulterated processed meat products is still underway, and the FSA is working closely with the respective authorities. [Northern Ireland Executive: statement - portion]

 The culprit of the news outbreak

One of the world's best known food companies, the Switzerland-based Nestlé is the latest in a string of businesses that have detected varying amounts of horse—from traces of DNA to 100% meat—in products labeled as "beef." Nestlé admits that it's just a labeling-issue, not a food-safety issue.

The patties had been processed at two plants in Ireland—Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods—and Dalepak Hambleton in the UK. The source of contamination is thought to be from horse-derived high-protein powders from Spain or The Netherlands, not from fresh horse meat, say Irish beef processing group ABP, owner of Silvercrest and Dalepak. Testing is still being done to find out how the contamination took place.
[Serious Eats: Jan 18, 2013 - 3:45 PM]

Where is this happening?

January 18, 2013 the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) revealed that they found horse DNA in frozen beef burger patties sold in the UK and Ireland by major supermarket chains Aldi, Iceland, Lidl, and Tesco. 9/10 patties tested had very low levels of horse DNA, but the patty from Tesco tested for 29% horse DNA.The latest news on the topic in Europe now includes Swedish furniture giant Ikea®--after authorities confirmed Monday that horsemeat had been detected in frozen meatballs labeled as beef and pork and sold in 13 countries by the retailer. People love those meatballs, but the outrage continues because apparently they love horses too (but not cows?).

A problem the same in western culture, and my opinion

Professor Alan Reilly, chief executive of the FSAI, said while the findings posed no risk to health they did raise concerns.
"While there is a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA in these products, due to the fact that meat from different animals is processed in the same meat plants, there is no clear explanation at this time for the presence of horse DNA in products emanating from meat plants that do not use horsemeat in their production process."
He said it was not part of Irish culture to eat horsemeat: "We do not expect to find it in a burger; likewise, for some religious groups or people who abstain from eating pig meat, the presence of traces of pig DNA is unacceptable."
[Guardian UK]

A butcher selects horsemeat at his horse butchery shop
in the old city of Nice, France.
Photograph by Eric Gaillard, Reuters
As you may know; I was raised in a German-influenced household and I've visited the country six times. I'm a wildlife activist, and not an animal-activist and I view all of natures creatures equally.

I have in fact consumed horse meat and it's not out of the ordinary in this culture. I personally enjoyed it. I would enjoy any meat (with the exception of human meat) if it was sustainably raised, butchered ethically and safely.

So, the only issues that I can see so far are:
  1. Consumer purchase ethics: there is lack of transparency in the labeling side of things. A consumer has the right to be aware of what they are purchasing. Aware of what they're consuming is another story--western culture lives a lot of their meat-eating lifestyles in an "ignorance is bliss" category anyway--all mass-manufactured meat used in mainstream and fast food facilities is questionable in source and safety. If you're surprised to read this, you need to re-visit your awareness and go to this post for more information.
  2. Consumer safety: antibiotics that aren't safe for human consumption could be inside the meat source. The concern is that there may have been an oversight in introducing horse meat, from unregulated sources, into the meat products. Phenylbytazone "bute", can be given to horses, and it is perfectly legal. However it is not legal (for many reasons) not for horses intended to be slaughtered for human consumption.
Why do consumers in Western culture see one of these creatures more "cute" or
"appetizing" than the other? I can't tell you, because I don't agree.

cute little ponies vs. daisy the cow?
In all honesty: I know many meat-eaters that won't consumer certain meats because they believe they are more "cute" than others. I find this stance hypocritical. This is why I cannot relate, support or even begin to discuss the topic of emotional attachment to "horses" versus "beef". Every animal is precious and sacrifices it's life for a meat-eater; and if a meat-eating-consumer cannot face this fact, perhaps they shouldn't be eating or purchasing meat at all. *steps off soap box*

Nestlé and the relationship with a sustainable food industry

Their history of consumer boycott is nothing new. The company is notorious in this regard. While Nestlé is the "big name" in the spotlight of accountability; there are many other company names ringing around the topic. Silvercrest is one of the plants whose frozen burger patties were found to contain horse DNA over two weeks ago. Names, names dropped everywhere. Where do we hold accountability? Well: Nestlé is a Swiss multinational nutritional, snack food, and health-related consumer goods company headquartered in Vevey, Switzerland. It is the largest food company in the world measured by revenues. Their list of products and companies is so grand and extensive; I question what product on your grocery shelf ISN'T owned by this company!
Don't be surprised if one of your favourite brands is guilty by association.

Nestlé is another corporate giant that has their hands in as many identities but in the end the money consumers spend on these products ends up in the hands of Nestlé shareholders, executives and the Big Food Industry. As I have mentioned several times---big companies aren't healthy for any industry. Especially the food industry. The bigger the company, the less diversity--and in the big picture--the less choices available for the consumer, and the less accountability or competition held towards the supplier... and standards fall.

Why it might be a good thing

I'm hoping that consumers that are blissfully-ignorant and/or continue to support and purchase from big unsustainable merchants like Wal-Mart, or fast food companies like Burger King, will step back after hearing this story and re-consider their priorities and support the appropriate sustainable and local meat suppliers. The meat industry is--and has been for a while--in serious trouble (XL Foods is another perfect example) and it is up to YOU as the consumer creating demand to change it. It's in your hands, believe it or not!

Added resources:

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    I was wondering if you could share the link to the picture of Nestle and it's competitors and all of their subsidiaries. Thank you!