Horse News

Happy Birthday, Horsemeat Scandal

Source: By Eve Mitchell as published in

“…if you’re going to buy heavily processed foods you need to know this stuff –”

Horsemeat on a bunIt’s been a year since we were first told the beef we buy in the EU may actually be horsemeat, but we still don’t really know what happened, how far it spread, who is responsible, or how they will be called to account for themselves.

We’ve seen a smattering of arrests, notably the September 2013 arrests of eight managers of the French company Spanghero on charges of aggravated fraud and mislabelling of food products. French authorities say they “knowingly sold” 750 tonnes of horsemeat mislabelled as beef. Around two-thirds of this went to French firm Comigel’s Luxembourg subsidiary Tavola and found its way into some 4.5 million products that were then sold again to 28 companies operating in 13 European countries. This may be the source of the tainted Findus “beef” lasagne (100% horsemeat) found on UK supermarket shelves.

Sound complicated? It is, but if you’re going to buy heavily processed foods you need to know this stuff – unless you’re happy to just pinch your nose and swallow.

Justice is elusive. Accused of netting some €500,000 over six months of fraud (£425,000 or US$681,000), Spanghero had been stripped of its operating license in February 2013. It then closed in June, changed managers, sacked nearly 60% of its workforce, renamed itself La Lauragaise, refinanced and was trading again by the end of July – protesting its “innocence” all the way. Then came the arrests in September. The company’s new tagline “Saveurs des terroirs” (“The flavours of the land”, with heavy overtones of traditional cultural quality) feels like a bad joke.

Flagship arrests, while welcome, are not enough. Supermarkets sold us this stuff but are not feeling the heat. The UK Parliamentary inquiry into the affair quizzed supermarket bosses, pointing out to Tesco that it is “notorious” for rejecting misshapen apples but somehow managed to miss the fact that products labelled beef were actually up to 29% horse. The Tesco representative attempted to blame consumers, saying the company does what they want, but this didn’t wash with the committee, which retorted, “You obviously don’t [do what your customers want] on horse.”

The inquiry pressed that if beef is trading at a premium to horse, and with “unscrupulous people out there, as obviously there are,” surely supermarkets should watch cheaper products more closely. Tesco said each of its suppliers is scrutinised with the same ”rigour” (Tesco does one DNA test per year at each meat production site). Horsemeat was still being found in Tesco products as late as June, but as the Food Standards Agency only reports results over 1%, for all we know horsemeat is still masquerading as beef all over the place. At this stage it isn’t in anybody’s interest to say differently, and consumers have to take what they can get.

Supermarkets sell UK shoppers 80% of our food, so when they fail us, it is a big deal. Tesco pleads innocence, saying its supplier used unapproved suppliers further down the chain. The Committee’s July 2013 report concluding its inquiry said while some retailers may have been misled, the big ones “need to ‘up their game’”, and the costs should rest on companies, not consumers. The inquiry concluded, “Retailers and meat processors should have been more vigilant against the risk of deliberate adulteration,” instead of taking everything “on trust”. The Committee continued, “We are dismayed at the slow pace of investigations and would like assurance that prosecutions will be mounted where there is evidence of fraud or other illegal activity.” That was in July 2013.

So what has the UK Government done? Testifying before the inquiry in January 2013 Minister for Agriculture and Food David Heath MP announced a wide-ranging review of the crisis, but the report was kicked into the long grass and is not due before an unnamed point in 2014, with actual action who knows when after that. Meanwhile the inquiry heard the Government is proposing to decriminalise food labelling violations amid a declining number of public analysts and labs able to carry out food testing and budget cuts to the local authorities responsible for food testing.

UK Secretary of State for Food and Farming Owen Paterson said of the horsemeat scandal: “I think we came out of it very strongly.” On addressing the scandal he said, “Firstly we are bound by the rules of the European market,” although this is a notable departure from his feelings in other areas (Paterson calls Europe’s rules on GM food “medieval” and compares them to “witchcraft”). The annual review of his department showed that fewer than a third of his staff have confidence in managerial decision making and fewer than a quarter think their management have a clear vision of the future. They are not alone.

Some say all this is proof that “Big Retail has government in an armlock”. It sure feels like they have shoppers under the other arm.

On 14 January 2014 the European Parliament passed a motion on food fraud that “deplores” that it has never been an EU enforcement priority and reiterates that “the retail sector has a special responsibility to guarantee the integrity of food products”. With supermarkets claiming innocence and the UK Government playing “hurry up and wait,” maybe the EU can force some action on our behalf.

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13 replies »

  1. No excuse , when a Company is responsible for the distribution of Food , they better damn straight know WHATS in It………. Because they will be held responsible…….Claiming Stupid will not work !!!!!!!!!


  2. There is no accountability and this continues….Consumers need to stop buying this garbage and cook fresh food for their family. As long as there
    is horse slaughter it’s going to get into the food supply.


  3. I would guess that in Europe, as here, families living in cities who aren’t offered the choice of fresh food or for that matter, local meat, are mainly the ones stuck in the middle of this mess. Frankly, the large corporations (once again) who are supposed to see that any food is up to par & what it says it is, just aren’t doing their job. As usual! As in the GMOs! As in the Farm Bureau, & on & on.
    The animals and the general public are caught in the middle.


  4. Sue Wallis, Dunne, McNeil, King, Inhoff (i know its mispelled), should take Santos, Rains, and supporters to work overseas horse trading.


  5. Is anyone surprised? I was hopeful when the new EU regulations were passed. I read them over a few times and “yes”, this may be an answer to our prayers. But the almighty dollar and greed runs far deeper than the morality of the slaughter issue. Paper work is never passed on or legimate when it comes to the equine slaughter. The. Us is the target because we too seem to maximize the crooks. This is why we must once and for all pass the “safe act” and leave no means for our us equines to be slaughtered here or leave this country thru any means of transportation whether it be by trucks or airplanes. We have problems with our own food substances here. Ecoli and who knows what with all the recalls of the various meat products. Can our own government be trusted? Pretty scary -isn’t it? I stopped eating meat a long time ago for various reasons. Its pretty hard when your raised to be a carnivore. I guess I not surprised about any of this. We will see an end to all of this but the horse people in our country and the breed associations had better be ready with some solutions.
    The us government and the administrations have caused this situations over the years leaving the american without jobs and a means of supporting their families. So until the legislation is passed once and for all, I will keep up the fight to protect all of our equine friends from being slaughtered here or from leaving america.s shores.


  6. There is another organization that has entered the fight against the slaughter of US horses for meat because of the drugs. It’s called PCRM Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. This is a non-profit run by Dr. Neal Barnard. I joined this organization a few years ago because they were working to stop Universities from using lab animals because there was numerous other noninvasive ways to test medicines that didn’t use animals at all. They have also went after the Military for using farm animals like pigs and goats to train Doctors to treat battlefield wounds.
    What they are doing is contacting all of their members to call your congress members and support the S.A.V.E Act. This surprised me because I think they are concerned about the Vet drugs in horse meat being shipped to the EU countries. I would advise everyone on this blog to contact them and join up. They have their people that work in DC talking to the politicians. I was sent a email last night about supporting the S.A.V.E. ACT. I sent back a email explaining that I was already in the fight against horse slaughter. I also warned the guy that sent the email about Senator John Cornyn TX being one of the senators 100% against stopping the slaughter of US horses shipped to Canada/Mexico. They might be able to do something about convincing some of the senators about how dangerous the vet drugs are. Very few of the Senate have listened to any of us about it.


  7. I think I found a good source of red meat. It’s from Belcampo Co. There farm is several hours from me but they are certified organic and slaughter according to Temple Grandin’s rules. They also own the slaughterhouse.

    I don’t know if this makes it more sustainable or what. I just know I’ve been very uncomfortable buying red meat from welfare ranchers who don’t give a hoot about about anyone but their checking acct.

    I know some of have said to buy locally. I don’t really live in an area where that’s possible. I know that these people sell at a somewhat local farmer’s market to me–about 25 mins each way. I think being organic is good and if they really do slaughter by Temple’s rules that is also good.

    This slaughterhouse opened in 2012 and does multispecies slaughter. I’m not worried about horse because CA voted many years ago to NOT slaughter here. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen or won’t.

    Any thoughts from those who promote buying meat locally…organic and dignified slaughter–dignified being that the animals isn’t abused or harassed at the end of life as we so often see.


    • Margaret, you still need to know where the cattle came from and what they ate and/or what was injected into their bodies or their feed if you are concerned about food safety. Organic substances are toxic, too.


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