Horsemeat scandal

Horse meat found in yet more frozen dinners

A shocking food ingredient scandal that was first brought to light in Ireland back in January is reportedly now spreading across Europe, as major food suppliers continue to be exposed for selling food products tainted with horse meat. Aldi, Tesco, and numerous other major food retailers throughout the U.K. and Europe have apparently been unknowingly selling frozen meals and other processed food products that contain up to 100 percent horse meat, despite being labeled as containing 100 percent beef.

It all began back in mid-January when the Food Safety Authority (FSA) of Ireland first identified the presence of horse meat DNA in certain food products distributed by Silvercrest Foods and Dalepak Hambleton, two subsidiaries of the ABP Food Group, as well as Liffey Meats. Ten million so-called "beef" burger patties were immediately pulled from store shelves across the U.K., and fast food chain Burger King also quickly switched beef suppliers, as the company had been sourcing beef from ABP for its U.K. market.

Not long after this, Ireland's Department of Agriculture conducted additional tests on products supplied specifically by Silvercrest and found that tainted, raw ingredients were being sourced from outside the U.K. in places like Romania, where the alleged adulteration took place. Meanwhile, another meat supplier, Rangeland Foods, suspended production after 75 percent equine DNA was detected in its raw ingredients as well, pointing to a widespread conspiracy across many food suppliers throughout Europe.

More recently, SkyNews reported that French food supplier Comigel has also now been pinned as peddling horse meat as beef, prompting retailers Tesco and Aldi to pull all frozen spaghetti and lasagna meals made by the company from store shelves. A subsequent FSA investigation into Comigel has since revealed that some of its products actually contain 100 percent horse meat, and not a trace of real beef, which has left both regulators and the public scratching their heads in disbelief.

"To reassure the public, we are conducting an unprecedented analysis of processed beef products to see how far this either incompetence or negligence, or the criminal conspiracy extends, and we hope to have results by the end of next week," explained U.K. Environment Secretary Owen Patterson to SkyNews about the issue. "If there is an international element to his, and there is a conspiracy across Europe, we need to work very closely with all our partners ... to get to the bottom of this."

   'Horse meat' could actually be donkey meat, say food industry officials

But the situation gets worse. According to Jose Bove, Vice President of the European Parliament agriculture committee, this sudden influx of horse meat into the U.K. could actually include a large percentage of donkey meat as well. As it turns out, a law passed six years ago in Romania that bans horse-drawn carts from public roadways recently came into enforcement, which means millions of horses went to the chopping block. But included in this ban were donkey-drawn carts as well, which means both horse and donkey meat were potentially shipped throughout Europe as "beef."

"Horses have been banned from Romanian roads and millions of animals have been sent to the slaughterhouse," explained Bove to the U.K.'s Independent, hinting at where these animals ended up -- on the dinner plates of millions of Brits and others. "This is a case of fraud and a conspiracy against the public. This is a criminal action, substituting one material for another."

With the entire world now representing a single, global marketplace, it sure makes you wonder where else all that horse and donkey meat might be hiding. Is this gross food conspiracy limited to Europe, or is North America also affected?

   Is it a health problem?

The government said at first that there was no health risk from horsemeat, but a leading government public analyst pointed out that it could not be sure until it knew the source of the horsemeat. The latest advice from the chief medical officer is that there is a risk but that it is very low.

Horses are routinely treated with an anti-inflammatory drug called phenylbutazone, or "bute". Bute is banned from the human food chain, because it can in rare cases cause a potentially life threatening illness, aplastic anaemia, or bone marrow failure. Since it is not known what triggers the illness, it has not been possible to set any safe level for bute residues in human food. Doses from horsemeat are likely to be very low. Horse passports are supposed to record any bute administered so that animals can be excluded from going for food, but with large numbers of fake passports in circulation, some horses containing bute have been eaten.

Since the scandal the government has changed the rules so that horse carcasses may now only be released for consumption once they have been tested for bute. The first batch of tests found around 4% of horse testing positive. The horse trade from the Americas has similarly been bedevilled by problems with horse passports and drug contamination.

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