Consumers across the nation have been shocked by the revelation by a consumer watchdog that Tesco and other major supermarkets are selling ‘beef’ products that contain traces, and in several cases high percentages, of horsemeat. But as the dust settles, what are the implications of the revelation, and is this a moral dilemma or a health issue?
Of course, the thought of eating horsemeat is unusual. Many people consider horses to be pets, and they are certainly seen primarily as riding animals in the UK. The fact that the meat was unlisted on packaging has also raised trading standards issues and questions over whether we can really trust supermarkets to provide customers with accurate information.
The real issue, however, is to do with the potential health risks of eating horsemeat. One such risk is that the horsemeat could contain drugs once administered to the animal- drugs that can cause health issues and illness if ingested by humans.
The Food Standards Agency have admitted that several horses bound for human consumption in France recently tested positive for the harmful drug phenylbutazone. This drug is known to be cancer causing, and is banned from human consumption in the EU. Whilst the drug has not been found within UK meat the implications are still alarming, and the issue raises question over how effectively such risk factors are controlled.
Horses in the UK are required to have a passport that declares their medical history and lists all drugs administered to them in their lifetime. Horses that are sold for meat must have a clean bill of health, and not have received any drugs that can endanger humans. But these passports are not regulated, and it is possible to produce a new ‘clean’ passport for a horse very easily- this has been done in the past for ease of transporting horses. It can thus be difficult to know which drugs a horse has been given in its lifetime.
Another pressing health issue is how the meat was obtained. Worries are that it was produced in unsanitary conditions, or had been ‘left over’ in an abattoir and was simply used as a filler to increase the size of a burger. This meat may also be less fresh than the beef used for the same burger and thus potentially dangerous. But these accusations are unconfirmed and spokespeople for the factories producing the meat have confirmed that it is healthy, if unorthodox.