10 things you should know about horse meat
As the horse meat scandal sweeps across Europe, shops and restaurants from Britain to Romania are recalling “beef” products tainted with meat from our majestic, four-legged friends. The United States appears to be safe from the scandal, with food inspectors insisting we have not been outfoxed by foreign meat suppliers. But just in case, here’s everything you never thought you’d need to know about horse meat.
1. It all started in January.
The horse meat scandal started in January after Ireland’s food safety enforcer revealed that a selection of cheap burgers labeled “beef” had tested positive for horse DNA. Since then, countries across Europe have undertaken extensive food testing efforts — with unsettling results.
Horse meat has been found in mislabeled “beef” products sold across the continent. Ikea alone had to pull its signature meatballs from stores in 21 countries after tests detected the meat. U.S. stores have not been affected.
2. There’s more than one culprit.
Authorities are quick to point out that the horse meat does not pose a health risk — it’s a case of mislabeling and deception. And with product recalls spreading across Europe like wildfire, it’s no surprise we’re looking at more than one culprit.
Suppliers from Britain to Germany to Poland are being investigated by food safety authorities, and it will take a while to get all the facts sorted out. Ikea isn’t the only high-profile company affected by the scandal — food behemoth Nestle also got duped by suppliers.
3. It’s not a case of accidental contamination.
Swedish food inspectors reported that Ikea meatballs tested between 1% and 10% of horse meat. When findings exceed 1%, it indicates that the ingredient was mixed in during the cooking process, instead of resulting from accidental contamination.
4. Horse meat isn’t exactly illegal in the U.S.
Horse meat is popular in some European and Asian countries, including France, Belgium, China and Japan. But chances are you haven’t picked up a loin on your weekly trip to Trader Joe’s.
In 2007, court action closed the last slaughterhouses producing horse meat for human consumption in the United States. Nor do we import horse meat. But hold your horses. A 2012 bill lifted the ban on funding horse meat inspections, potentially re-opening the door for domestic horse slaughter.
5. Horse meat is actually better for you than beef.
Three ounces of roast horse boasts fewer calories (149) and less fat (5 grams) than the same sized portion of beef tenderloin, which contains 179 calories and 9 grams of fat.
6. It’s nutritious, too!
But wait — the nutritional benefits of horse meat don’t stop there. Horse meat contains more iron and vitamin B12 than beef. Additionally, horse meat is extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids, or “good fats,” that help keep your heart healthy.
7. It tastes like …
Horse meat reportedly tastes like a slightly gamey cross between beef and venison (i.e., deer meat). Some people even describe a sweetish flavor to horse meat, which is extremely versatile — Italians use it in stew, and the Japanese eat it in sushi, to name just two preparations.
8. Vet painkillers used to be a concern in horse meat.
There’s been a lot of hype about the presence of bute in horses. Bute — real name: Phenylbutazone — is a veterinary painkiller that causes blood disorders in humans. It was traditionally used to treat ill horses, but per European law, bute is now only given to horses not destined for human consumption.
9. Cows are cheaper.
Bear with us for a quick economics lesson. It’s no wonder medieval farmers drifted toward raising cattle rather than horses for food — they’re cheaper. Horses eat 63% more than cattle, since cows constantly chew and regurgitate their food as “cud.” Hence, it costs more and uses more resources to raise a herd of horses for food.
10. The horse meat scandal is fuel for the locavore movement.
The horse meat scandal is yet another piece of ammo for advocates of the locavore mentality. Large-scale commercial food production gets more unfriendly and impersonal by the day, and this latest development may spark even more people to jump on the farm-to-table bandwagon. And why not? It gives us more control over what goes into our bodies, along with greater peace of mind.