Horsemeat in European Beef Scandal Affects Burger King, Nestle; Is U.S. Beef Safe?

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

Three arrests were made last week in England in the investigation of meat sold in Europe labeled as beef but testing positive for DNA from horses. This unfolding meat-fraud scandal has rocked all of Europe and many Americans are questioning the safety of the U.S. beef supply.

Meat from British horses was discovered in takeout burgers and kebabs on February 11, according to the Daily Mail. “The burgers were labeled as beef and the kebabs as lamb. The alarming twist suggests retired racehorses and ponies could have been sold as regular meat. This was the first time the UK was implicated in the food-fraud scandal which is sweeping over Europe.

On Tuesday, a slaughterhouse and a meat firm in Yorkshire and West Wales were raided by police in the UK investigating alleged horsemeat mislabeling, the report says. Officials revealed that the manager of one of the facilities, Peter Boddy, 63, has a contract to kill racehorses badly hurt during the Grand National and also has a past record of selling “unfit” meat to the public.

Boddy was arrested for fraudulently selling horsemeat for use in kebabs and burgers sold in Britain, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced . The two other men arrested are connected with Farmbox Meats, which is a processing plant. The FSA accused Boddy of providing horse carcasses to Farmbox Meats, which were subsequently processed and passed off as beef.

The complexity of this scandal is mindboggling and is blamed by officials on the fact that so far there has not been an agency in the EU tracing the testing of meat as it passes from county to country in various forms.

It reportedly began in mid-January, when Irish food inspectors announced they had found horsemeat in some burgers stocked by UK supermarket chains.

As the investigation spread across 16 EU countries, it culminated in the speculation that things in Europe were so far out of control that a Romanian slaughterhouse might be mislabeling donkey meat as beef.


The crisis really gained worldwide attention when European food regulators recently uncovered horsemeat masquerading as beef at Burger King (Ed. Note: BK denies that the horsemeat was ever sold, however, the company has said that samples taken from a supplier at one point contained a "very small trace levels" of equine DNA. "[W]e are deeply troubled by the findings of our investigation and apologize to our guests, who trust us to source only the highest quality 100% beef burgers," Burger King's vice president for global quality, Diego Beamonte, said in a statement.), and in school meals, and hospitals across Europe and the UK, and resulted in multiple product recalls announced by major supermarket chains.

On Tuesday of this week, Nestlé, which is based in Switzerland and is one of the worlds’ food giants, announced it is removing pasta meals from stores in Italy and Spain because DNA tests show a level of more than 1 percent horse meat.

BBC News reported that horsemeat was confirmed in some frozen lasagna on sale in France too. The company, Comigel, denied wrongdoing, saying it had ordered the meat from Spanghero, a firm in southern France, via a subsidiary in Luxembourg.

The supply chain reportedly led back to traders in Cyprus and the Netherlands, then to abattoirs in Romania.

Romania has denied claims that it was the source of the mislabeling of horsemeat. Bucharest says horsemeat that leaves the country has not been ground and is labeled as “horse.”

It also contends it exports horsemeat to Sweden, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Poland in its own trucks, the BBC's Nick Thorpe reports.

So far, the horsemeat-fraud scandal has reportedly not touched U.S. beef, and food-safety experts have rushed to reassure Americans that their burgers are safe from horse adulteration, according to the New York Times.

The current horsemeat crisis has been considered mainly an issue of fraud and mislabeling, but the possibility of what was most feared became a reality last week when bute (phenylbutazone)--a powerful equine inflammatory and painkiller, was found in the food chain. This could prove a threat to humans if ingested in sufficient quantities.

“Eight horses slaughtered for food in Britain tested positive for the drug. Six of those carcasses had already been exported to France for use in human food,” reported the New York Times.


As the investigation reached across the 16 countries affected, it caused speculation that things in Europe were so far out of control that a Romanian slaughterhouse, Doly-Com, might even be mislabeling donkey meat as beef also.

Although this claim was quickly and indignantly denied by Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta, it is still considered a possibility because new laws are in Romania against using horses and donkeys to pull carts on public thoroughfares has resulted in a surplus of both.

Iulian Cazacut, general director of Doly-Com, admitted to ‘buying horses from anyone’ for slaughter but insisted the firm had done nothing wrong. They slaughter from 3,000 to 4,000 horses a year, he stated.


The EU scandal primarily centers around mixing horsemeat--which is legally slaughtered in Europe and is much cheaper—in expensive meat marked as “100% Beef: and defrauding the public.

There are now calls for more specific labeling on processed meat products in the EU, to show country of origin, as in the case of fresh meat. But the cost of doing that may trigger opposition from food manufacturers.

The other determination to be made is whether this was carried out at the slaughter/processing level or the companies that produce the retail product---in Europe mainly frozen meals or meat-based sauces.

Speaking at a press conference in Paris, France’s consumer affairs minister Benoit Hamon unveiled a hard hitting initial report and said a ‘fraudulent trade’ in ‘beef’ had been going on since at least August, with receipts suggesting that it has been worth around 300,000 euros (USD $426,510.)

He suggested that some of the consignments were ‘100 per cent horse,’ yet the food companies continually denied trading in it.


UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson flew to Brussels this week for crisis talks with other European farming ministers from Ireland, France, Poland, Romania, Sweden and Luxembourg - all countries which have been caught up in the expanding scandal.

So far, the horsemeat-fraud scandal has reportedly not touched U.S. beef, and food-safety experts have rushed to reassure Americans that their burgers are safe from horse adulteration.

UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson made a statement said it was unacceptable if British firms are engaging in “fraud and conspiracy against the public,” and that Europe’s horsemeat crisis is probably being carried out by “criminal elements.”

Food Safety News reports on November 11 that the economics of such fraud are easy to figure. At current prices, 2.3 pounds of beef costs about $5.36. The same amount of horsemeat goes for $1.21.

There are now calls for more specific labeling on processed meat products in the EU, to show country of origin, as in the case of fresh meat. But the cost of doing that may trigger opposition from food manufacturers.

EU investigators say, 'There is no reason to believe frozen food on sale in the UK is ‘unsafe,' even if some horsemeat (or maybe donkey) has entered the mix.

Officials insist that all horse meat will be thoroughly tested, but, “We don't really have enough people to do the job,' said Liz Moran, president of the Association of Public Analysts.

“The EU is asking all Irish meat processors to cooperate with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in conducting DNA testing on all products. It was Irish DNA testing conducted as a quality assurance test that caught the horsemeat contamination of beef products in mid-January,” Food Safety News reports.


University of Guelph researchers test hamburgers sold in Canada, found they were 100 per cent beef, according to

Using advanced DNA testing on a wide range of burgers sold in Canada, the results showed that they were all 100 per cent beef.

The six (cooked) burgers that were tested were the following: A&W's Mama Burger, Burger King's Whopper, Dairy Queen's FlameThrower, Harvey's original burger, the McDonald's Big Mac, and Wendy's Bacon Double Cheeseburger.


Are escalating beef prices tempting suppliers worldwide to substitute horsemeat for beef or do only a few European criminals engage in the practice?

Only the kind of DNA testing Ireland used to discover the problem can tell and it does not appear the U.S. government does any of that, reports Food Safety News.

“Since there has not been any horse legally slaughtered in the U.S. for food in more than a half dozen years, its likely that ground beef and ground pork at your local meat market are 100 percent, unless you’ve ordered a meatloaf mix.”

If USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has anything going on in response to the horsemeat crisis in Europe, the agency has declined an opportunity to talk about it with Food Safety News.


Compared to the dangerous pathogens hiding in US-produced meat, Americans might want to consider replacing their beef patties with European horsemeat, says

The debacle has exposed weaknesses in the EU’s food safety procedures. However, horsemeat poses a negligible health risk. There have been no reported deaths or illnesses caused by this contamination. Though a harmful horse painkiller called bute was found in 8 of the 206 horses, a human would have to eat more than 500 burgers made entirely of horsemeat to ingest a human dose,” ThinkProgress reports.

The report states that it is ulikely there is horsemeat in the American meat mix since none of the horseslaughter plants which would be allowed under the law signed by President Obama have opened in the U.S. and the plants involved in Europe adamantly claim that they do not sell beef to the U.S.

However, the report does state, “… the average American consumes roughly 270 pounds of meat per year…There is, however, plenty of evidence that many Americans are inadvertently eating a side of deadly bacteria like salmonella or e. coli with their burgers.

According to Center for Disease Control estimates, 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses every year.

Is this a better reason to rethink eating meat than to worry about whether it is beef, horse or donkey?

Sources: (Daily Mail)
Read more:(Daily Mail, Think Progress, Food Safety News, New York Times)