Horsemeat Trade Leaves Europeans Wondering What’s on Their Plates

By on August 14, 2013

The horsemeat scandal, it seems, is far from over. One only needs to look at the recent case revealing Latvian horsemeat in frozen meat-pies sold in the United Kingdom (UK) to see that horsemeat fraud is widespread.

Even in the legal horsemeat trade, things are not completely transparent. It has been three years since the European Union (EU) introduced strict new requirements for the import of horsemeat from non-EU countries, yet meat from horses that should never have been slaughtered for export continues to arrive on the EU market. The European Commission has failed to stem that tide of horsemeat imports.

The question is, when can we expect the commission to act?

Officials have yet to explicitly link imports from non-EU countries and the horsemeat implicated in the recent UK fraud. However, for those of us working to protect horses, the discoveries of illicit horsemeat in beef burgers, lasagne and pies provides a missing puzzle piece: could this be where so much of the horsemeat imported into the EU is going?

Food suppliers already lawfully and routinely process horsemeat intocheap convenience foods in some parts of Europe without many consumers realizing it (unless they read the small print). It is easy to see how unscrupulous operators have been able to launder horsemeat into the food chain by passing it off as beef. The rise of processed meat products explains, in part, the apparent surfeit of horsemeat in Europe, because most consumers are not clamouring to eat it.

Indeed, the European horsemeat industry has been in steady decline since the 1960s as both culinary tastes and cultural attitudes have gradually changed. Even in France and Italy, traditional heartlands of horse slaughter and consumption, the number of horses killed has waned significantly. Statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization show that in 1961, 333,000 horses were slaughtered in France and 283,000 horses were slaughtered in Italy. By 2011, the numbers had dropped to 15,500 and 62,237, respectively.

Evidently, only a minority of French and Italian consumers are actually going out of their way to regularly consume horse flesh. A survey conducted by Ipsos MORI for Humane Society International in 2012 found that only 50 percent of respondents in France and 58 percent in Italy believed that it was acceptable to eat horses. Moreover, most respondents said they never or only sometimes eat horsemeat, whilst a mere 3 percent of Italians and 4 percent of French claimed to eat it frequently.

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