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Substitution Fraud: Horsemeat Lasagna?

  • February 18th, 2013
  • Posted by EUEditor

lasagna.jpgEuropean authorities are actively studying a uniform testing regime to prevent meat substitution, after the discovery of horsemeat being sold as beef in thirteen or more countries.


The first discoveries, from DNA testing  were made in January, in Ireland and the United Kingdom, with up to 100% horse meat found in packaged “beef” lasagne, then in other processed goods like Bolognese sauce or frozen hamburgers.

This month suspect consignments were being checked in Denmark, Germany and Hungary, among other places.

The products found were from major brands, with claims made that the meat came from some main suppliers, though supply companies have been denying involvement.

The Europol police agency was called in, and authorities have traced a supply chain through different countries, and the abattoir sites identified as being in Romania – a finding contested by officials there.


“The identification of all steps in the supply chain has been made easier by the traceability rules in place for food in the EU”, said the European Council, after a meeting of Agriculture Ministers from affected countries, at Brussels (15.2.13).

The Ministers considered a draft recommendation from the European Commission, for an EU-wide testing programme, to include random DNA testing of processed beef products.

It could extend to foodstuffs beyond horse flesh or beef. The idea will go to a full meeting of Agriculture Ministers next week, 25.2.13; together with proposals for more express labelling, and associated taxes. Cost, and the question of who pays, will be a factor in determining what is done in the end.


The first and most obvious problem with this trade is fraud, as horsemeat is markedly cheaper than beef.

The second is that being a covert trade, it may escape human health guarantees, so that, for example, veterinary medicines used for horses might be retained in the meat, and might be injurious to those who eat it.

Use of horsemeat for human food is legal in Europe and if declining, remains popular in many parts.

The meat itself is lean, and can be tender to chew. An entrecote steak will have yellow fat and maybe some soft gristle, with a tasty flavour, not particularly strong.

It is often sold through specialist butcher shops; at markets in France it is possible to buy some horse meat and have it cooked to order.


fox-hunt-tate.jpgIn other regions, like the United Kingdom, a cultural taboo operates against the practice, recognising the high domestication of horses, as work animals and companions.

black-caviar-ascot1.jpg pony-club.jpgHerding of horses with other animals kept for slaughter faded out across centuries as their other uses were taken up; in this tradition the idea of eating an animal that readily answers to its name became anathema.


Due to the physiology of horses  doubts exist as to whether they can be slaughtered humanely for meat, for human consumption.

They are euthanased with a gunshot or concentrated blow to the head, then immediately bled to death, ensuring enough blood goes out of the meat that it is not clogged. The pumping out of blood is thought to be less effective than with bovines killed the same way; the horse meat may have more of a surfeit of blood, prompting the accusation that a rogue slaughterer might try to use an external pump, with cruel effect.

The humanitarian concern with horses is more that the stunning blow may only appear to be effective, the animal left conscious during death.

Consumption of horse meat is common outside of Europe, notably in Central Asia and South America. In Australia the product might be found in the speciality or gourmet trade, but is generally banned, except as pet food.


European Council, Brussels. “Mislabelled meat products: towards a European coordinated response”, 15.2.13., (18.2.13).

Japan Times, Tokyo, “Europe gourmets unlikely to stop eating horse meat”, 18.2.13., (18.2.13).

VOA, Washington, “Horse Meat Scandal Spreads Across Europe”, 18.2.03., (18.2.13).


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