Horsemeat Scandal – What’s all the fuss about?

The UK is in the midst of a horsemeat scandal. The jokes are set to run and run (ha ha) but, in reality, this is no laughing matter. The story first broke in the middle of January 2013 with horse meat having been found in Tesco burgers. Other supermarket burgers were soon found to contain horse meat. No sooner had the story looked like dying away, Twitter was alight once more – this time with #Findus, rather than #Tesco. Findus ‘beef’ lasagne turned out to be Findus horsemeat lasagne.

‘Food’ manufacturers have been summoned to crisis talks with Environment Secretary Owen Patterson. Fingers of blame are being pointed from the Food Standards Agency to Poland. Vegans and real foodies are having a field day (excuse the pun). So, what’s the issue?

There are three issues worthy of exploration:

1) The health issue

2) The animal issue

3) The trust issue

1)  The health issue

Let’s start with the health issue. When horsemeat was first discovered in value burgers I tweeted that this would likely be the healthiest part of the product. Burgers can have starch, wheat flour, sugar, preservatives and things that you wouldn’t recognise in them. The meat, albeit rarely the healthiest cuts of the animal, will be the most nutritious part.

What is the nutritional content of horsemeat? Have consumers suffered a detriment by consuming meat from a horse instead of meat from a cow from a nutrient perspective? The table below compares five products. Column 2 has the meat that was supposed to go in the burgers and lasagne – i.e. mince beef. Column 3 has the nutritional analysis of horsemeat in general. I’ve included the most nutritious single food on the planet, liver, as a comparator as well as a piece of fruit (to show how lacking it is compared to meat) and the single ingredient that Brits and Americans consume the most of – the nutritionally poor but omnipresent, white flour.

 

(All per 100g of product)

Chicken Liver[i]

Mince Beef[ii]

Horse Meat[iii]

Apple (USDA A343)[iv]

Flour (white)[v]

Calories per 100g

116

332

133

52

364

Nutrition score

73

23

45

32

20

Protein Quality

149

49

144

31

43

Vitamins (USA RDA)
A (3000IU)

11,077

0

0

54

0

B1 (Thiamin) (1.2mg)

0.3

0

0.1

0

0.1

B2 (Riboflavin) (1.3mg)

1.8

0.1

0.1

0

0

B3 (Niacin) (16mg)

9.7

3.4

4.6

0.1

1.3

B5 (Pantothenic Acid) (5mg) (AI)

6.2

0.4

0

0.1

0.4

B6 (1.7mg)

0.9

0.3

0.4

0

0

Folic Acid (Folate) (400mcg)

588

8

0

3

26

B12 (2.4mcg)

16.6

2.1

3

0

0

C (90mg)

17.9

0

1

4.6

0

D (400IU) (AI)

neg

0

0

neg

0

E (15mg)

0.7

0.5

0

0.2

0.1

K (120mcg) (AI)

0

2.9

0

2.2

0.3

Minerals (M)
Calcium (1000-1200mg) (AI)

8

24

6

6

15

Magnesium (420mg)

19

14

24

5

22

Phosphorus (700mg)

297

132

221

11

108

Potassium (4700mg) (AI)

230

218

360

107

107

Sodium (1500mg) (AI)

71

67

53

neg

2

Minerals (T)
Copper (0.9mg)

0.5

0.1

0.1

0

0.1

Iron (18mg)

9

1.6

3.8

0.1

1.2

Manganese (2.3mg) (AI)

0.3

0

0

0

0.7

Selenium (55mcg)

54.6

13.5

10.1

0

33.9

Zinc (11mg)

2.7

3.6

2.9

0

0.7

 

You can see that the horsemeat scores well when compared to the beef. Lower in calories (if you care about that sort of thing), a higher nutrition score (the United States Department of Agriculture rating of individual foods) and a higher overall protein quality. Beef is better than horse for 4 vitamins, horse is better than beef for 5 vitamins and they are equal for 3. When it comes to minerals, beef is better than horse for 4 minerals, horse is better than beef for 4 vitamins and they are equal for 2. It really is neck and neck (pun alert!)

There have been some concerns that the horsemeat may contain drugs unfit for human consumption. At the time of writing this blog, this has not been determined. This concern aside, comparing nutrients alone tells us that the nutrition provided by the unexpected ingredient (horse) is no worse than that which the consumer expected to get (beef).

2) The animal issue

When it comes to animals and humans, we all draw the line in a different place. At one extreme we have the survival expert, Bear Grylls, who has the line drawn beyond all animals – he would eat any of them to survive. He has even eaten their waste products on television. At the other extreme we have people who will not eat any animal (meat, fish), any products from an animal (dairy, eggs), who will not wear any product from an animal (leather, wool) and will not utilise any product for which animals have been involved in the process (drugs, toiletries etc). As Lierre Keith so beautifully described in The Vegetarian Myth even vegans cannot consume any food for which an animal has not died. From the wolves and bison displaced for grain and soy(a) production, to the slugs destroyed to produce lettuce, to the fish killed as rivers are diverted to irrigate plant foods – we cannot eat anything for which something else has not died – no matter how much we wish to draw our line beyond this fact.

The emotive part of the horsemeat scandal is that many people do not want to eat horsemeat. Brits particularly, have an issue with eating horses – an issue that is not shared by much of the rest of Europe or by parts of Asia. Brits see horses as pets rather than food. A number of people have been deeply offended to discover that they have eaten horsemeat when they would not have chosen to do so. These people draw their line between horse and cow – the latter is OK, the former is not. This brings us on to…

3) The trust issue

The real issue in this scandal has to be about trust. People have trusted ‘food’ manufacturers to put what it says on the packet in the packet. This is not unreasonable, but, dare I suggest, it’s a bit naive? I say this because I wonder if consumers of processed ‘food’ ever know precisely what they’re eating. If you eat processed ‘food’ you may encounter the following ingredients, just as examples: hydrogenated fats; monosodium glutamate; maltodextrin; sodium caseinate; autolyzed yeast; autolyzed vegetable protein; hydrolyzed vegetable protein; citric acid; BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole); BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene); sodium nitrate; propyl gallate; sodium benzonate; benzoic acid; potassium bromate… Have you ever consumed aspartame? Have you ever Google’d ” dangers of aspartame”?

Give your child glucose syrup, sugar, gelatine (derived from the collagen inside animal skin and bones), dextrose, citric acid, flavourings, fruit and plant concentrates, colours (including carmine, which is made from crushed insects – usually red beetles), glazing agents (including beeswax), invert sugar syrup and fruit extract and no one will bat an eyelid. That’s the ingredients list for (sing along) “Kids and Grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo”. And this is supposed to be a treat?!

British consumers have every right to feel let down by ‘food’ manufacturers. ‘Food’ manufacturers are unworthy of your trust. And, given the other nasties they regularly put in their fake food, they were unworthy of your trust long before horsemeat found its way into their ‘beef’ products. If you consume processed ‘food’, you really have no idea precisely what you are consuming. Why be any more outraged by a nutritious substance like horsemeat and not nutritionally void sugar and the chemical list above?

There is only one way to know precisely what you’re eating and that is to eat real food. This horsemeat scandal has not been an issue for me personally, as I know exactly where the lambs, pigs and cattle that I eat graze. I pass the chickens that deliver my eggs on the dog walk 2-3 times a day. I don’t eat anything that requires a label. If you want to ensure that any future food scandals have nothing to do with you, the strategy is really simple – JUST EAT REAL FOOD!

 



[i] http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/poultry-products/666/2

[ii] http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/beef-products/8004/2

[iii] http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/lamb-veal-and-game-products/4639/2

[iv] http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1809/2

[v] http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/5821/2

 

 

Posted in Gov. Policy, Ingredients, Media comments
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20 comments on “Horsemeat Scandal – What’s all the fuss about?
  1. avatar Alan Bailey says:

    I would be willing to eat horse, zebra, dog, cat, snake ostrich, kangaroo, rat, reindeer, hamster,pigeon, squirrel, rabbit, hare, duck, chicken etc. I am an omnivore and for medical reasons need to eaT 120gm protein daily – lentils would not suffice!
    I keep chickens and ducks – the eggs are free-range and organic. I also grow organic tomatoes, potatoes, sweetcorn, onions, peas and beans.

  2. avatar Alan says:

    I think Zoe is right on. It “should” be the trust that the public is upset about, but it seems there is more emotion on “OMG, I ate wilbur!”. And, of course, the readers of this blog are a whole different demographic than “the public” unfortunately. I have often paid a lot of yen to eat raw horse meat (sakuraniku) in Japan, and it’s very yummy. As for the morals about what we consume, I think there there is room for a reality check. Don’t eat anything with a label – I love it!

  3. avatar Stephen says:

    I haven’t eaten processed meat in donkey’s years. :)

  4. avatar Christine says:

    @ M: Phenylbutazone and Ketamine are not the same drug. Phenylbutazone can cause fatal aplastic anemia in humans.

  5. avatar Christine says:

    This post is really disingenuous. What’s been exposed here is the lack of food inspection, which is something that should concern everyone who eats, which is… everyone. You may see the chickens that produce your eggs, but most of us don’t. And unfortunately, although we buy our eggs from local organic producers, the food supply chain seems to get longer and more convoluted all the time. Horsemeat, assuming the traces of bute already found in some carcasses are isolated, may be healthy, but many cases involving adulterated food are not so benign. Look at the honey laundering scandal. Look at the melamine pet food scandal. In an unregulated environment there will always be people looking to make bigger profits by cutting corners, which is why we need inspections–to make sure that what we are told we are eating is really what we are eating.

  6. avatar Megan says:

    Neal,

    Isn’t what you are suggesting just “survival of the fittest”. This is what evolution is all about. If another species arrived on the planet and they were bigger, stronger and more intelligent than us, it would be right in an evolutionary sense that they should eat us all up.

    This is the way life works all the way down the food chain. We just happen to be at the top of said food chain. For now.

    As an intelligent being I would be able to express my desire not to be eaten and use my intelligence to run and hide – maybe. But when it comes down to it the fittest will win and that species will reproduce.

  7. avatar Neal says:

    Lierre Keith’s “Vegetarian Myth” completely misses (and always has) the elephant in the room, and to use it as an excuse to eat what we like is (deliberately?) distorting the point.

    Just because we can’t avoid some death doesn’t follow that we can cause as much of it as suits us, whenever we have a reason that’s ultimately easily avoidable, like taste.

    If you want to follow Keith’s logic. We’ll never completely stop humans killing each other, somewhere in the world, everyday, so why bother to make murder illegal at all? We can’t avoid some human killing, so fill your boots with it, even if it’s just for trivial, selfish reasons.
    So you see how absurd the “Vegetarian Myth” argument is when you actually try to use it consistently and without prejudice.

    And as for what the “fuss” is about. If another species arrived here and started eating us (eg your kids), and writing blogs to each other asking what all the fuss is about, saying that “if young tender humans taste good and have such and such nutritional qualities what’s the problem?”…You’d probably be the first in line to make the “mother” of all fuss (pun intended). So again, if anyone tried to test the prejudice of your argument by applying it outside a situation that specifically suits only humans, it would fail miserably.

    If it’s ok for a “superior” species” to eat an “inferior” one you’d better be ready to accept our fate if that other species ever turns up, otherwise it’d be one rule for us and another one for them. Heaven forbid!

    All these creatures be they horses, cows, sheep pigs or whatever, all have their own awareness of and preferences about their lives, however basic those preferences may be, and those preferences don’t include sacrificing themselves to be an un-needed (available elsewhere) source of nutrition and optional pleasure for a selfish human, and killing a slug by accident doesn’t excuse the deliberate slaughter of 60 billion sentient animals every year (8 billion in the UK alone) just because they “taste nice”, are “cheap”, “nutritious” or anything else, when all those qualities are available without killing them.

  8. avatar M says:

    You have to wonder why we’re being encouraged to eat ever more portions of fruit and veg when they contain so few nutrients. Milk, shellfish, eggs, liver and dark green leafy veg seems all we need no?

    Re horsemeat – nothing new under the sun. However, I would like to know whether the horse I was eating ate and lived well. As for Ketamine; pain clinics use it often for intractable pain. Oh and gelatine is good to eat.

  9. avatar Janet says:

    Thank you so much for your comments Zoe. Fortunately I haven’t eaten any processed meat products for some months. Ruthie, a Facebook friend of mine, is a wonderful role model as to how your forum works and how you have influenced her life. In turn she has influenced me and other Facebook users. I now avidly read all your writing. I am inclined towards the Paleo way of life but find myself consulting you more and more for family food issues. I was very shocked the other day when I realised my GP was so ignorant about modern thinking on the obesity epidemic. It’s hard to know where to start with them!

  10. avatar Wendy says:

    A voice of reason. Luckily, for us as a nation, not quite ‘crying out in the wilderness’ as it was not so long ago. Thank you Zoe. Well written as always.

  11. avatar Roger Brook says:

    Your quote about Lierre Keith’s insight into the vegetarian philosophy is fascinating. It’s great to read of such contrary thinking. What an exciting blog- but I am already one of your admirers!

  12. avatar Megan says:

    I read somewhere today of a man who had been tested for drugs at work and ketomine was picked up in tiny quantities. he says he hadn’t taken the drug, but had eaten some of the “suspect” meat. Not sure if this was a legit comment, but ketomine is used in horses and the thought that it is entering our bodies is worrying.

    of course, I haven’t eaten processed foods in at least a couple of years, but when eating out, you can’t be sure what you are getting.

    I also have concerns about my children’s school dinners.

  13. avatar Nancy M. says:

    I think there’s another issue, some drugs used for horses sticks around in the meat and really isn’t good for human health. You’d never find those drugs used in cattle.

  14. avatar Stephen says:

    Zoe has been telling us to buy grass fed meat and to watch what we eat, so I went out and bought tickets for the Grand National.

    Sorry Zoe, I couldn’t resist.

  15. avatar Catherine says:

    Zoe I agree with you wholeheartedly. The fact that these “foods” have not been properly labelled i.e. that they contain horsemeat, is the real issue. I had quite a conversation with some friends on Friday night about such products, and also about the frozen goo which is termed “ice cream”. I read through the list of ingredients of a tub of Walls Real Cornish Cream Ice Cream a little while ago, and found that only 4% is actually cream. The other 96% is basically sugar and water with some unpronounceable chemicals thrown in for good measure. I will never be eating it again. A couple of the girls said “But you can never know exactly what you’re eating, so it’s pointless worrying about it”, and I disagreed, saying that if you buy and prepare real food, then you do know what you’re eating. I believe that this current rumpus over horsemeat is a case of certain chickens finally coming home to roost for the “food” industry (sorry about animal pun again!).

  16. avatar Jessica says:

    No, I to would take issue with the “non-labelling” point. I agree with the fact that if we were to eat nothing but food as is (i.e. non-processed), we would know what we are eating. If I ate processed food and we found 0.018% was horse meat, I’d have no isssue with this. It’s that fact that the meat has been found in some cases to be be 100% horse meat. Someone knew somewhere along the line that this was so, and sloppy check methods have ensured that the public did not know. I don’t have an issue with horse, and I have no religious grounds on which I would want to protest. I just want to know. If you want to sell me horse, sell me horse. But don’t sell me something else instead of it. I eat asparteme. I eat it in the knowledge that it might be killing me, but it’s my choice and I’m not blaming Candarel or whoever for it.

  17. avatar tess says:

    yes, i totally agree with you. this is similar to the ruckus over “pink slime” in the US — and that was still beef! i just think if the product CONTAINS horsemeat, it would SAY SO on the label. chances are, most people who eat prepared foods don’t read it anyway.

  18. avatar Dave says:

    Right on! Zoe, you always impress me with you line of reasoning! Keep up the good work!

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