No Horsing Around, The Horse Meat Scandal

DSC_0166

Have you ever eaten something and then regretted it?  Since moving here, I’ve occasionally eaten horse.  I buy it for American visitors to taste.  If you’ve watched the news lately, you can understand why I might be regretting it.  If you haven’t seen news stories about Europe’s horse meat scandal, here’s a recap.  Horse meat has been discovered in European beef products sold in supermarkets in countries including Britain, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Ireland.  Here, eating horse (particularly in countries like France and Switzerland) is commonplace; it’s estimated that each person in Switzerland eats between 600 and 700 grams of horse meat each year.

From The Swiss Watch Blog

There are two types of horses, ones that are given the powerful and dangerous veterinary drug called phenylbutazone (also known as Bute and banned for human use because to cases severe side effects) and those without who are issued health certificates certifying they can enter the food chain.   Can you guess what happened?

from afp.com

Spanghero, a French company, labeled the horse meat it received from a Romanian slaughterhouse as beef.  According to officials, Spanghero should have identified the meat as horse from its Romanian customs code, as well as its appearance, smell and price. The company said it acted in good faith, never ordered horse meat, and never knowingly sold horse meat.  Parisian prosecutors are now investigating it as fraud.

From Business Inquirer

The geographic scope of the scandal expanded this week.  While the quality of food and the food chain in Switzerland is quite high, Swiss company Nestle (the world’s largest food company) is now embroiled in the scandal.   It suspended deliveries of all products supplied by German subcontractor H.J. Schypke alleging they sold the contaminated meat to one of Nestle’s suppliers.  German discount retailer Lidl pulled products from Finnish, Danish and Swedish stores after finding horse meat in products labeled as beef.  German ministers met in Berlin earlier this week to discuss the scandal.

Horse meat scandal dominating the front pages

Horse meat scandal dominating the front pages (Photo credit: Gene Hunt)

But, wait, it gets worse…. The Swiss program, Kassensturz, showed emaciated horses being beaten, neglected and transported in cramped conditions without food or water before being slaughtered.  Apparently it was pretty disturbing.  In response,  several grocery stores, including Coop, Denner, Aldi, Spar and Migros, pulled most horse meat products off their shelves.  Coop and Migros continue to sell some from suppliers (mostly in Canada or France) in whom they have confidence.  It’s almost enough to make me a vegetarian again.  It’s definitely enough to reduce my meat consumption and be choosier about where I purchase it.

 

Advertisements

Don’t Let The Cows Out!

In the US, we have a strong tradition of property rights.  In theory, every man (and woman) is the king (or queen) of his castle (or trailer) and can do what they want with their land, including barring others from trespassing.  Other countries, like Switzerland, have a different take.  There, landowners are regarded more as stewards of the people’s land.  As a result, Switzerland’s hiking trails (known as WanderwegTourisme Pédestre, and Sentiero Escursionistic in German, French and Italian respectively), cross through people’s property.  With around 60,000 km/37,282 miles of in such a small country, how could they not?

Yellow diamonds mark hiking routes (some cultural trails, old pilgrims’ roads, etc. have brown signposts).  When we first arrived in Switzerland, we weren’t sure whether we would get in trouble for following the trails.  They lead through people’s pastures, woods and yards.  We even followed one right through the middle of someone’s barn!

I know, for an American who grows up with “get off my land,” this is a hard concept to wrap your head around. Farmers receive significant benefits from the government so they don’t seem to mind to much.  If the Swiss government made me a steward of the land and defrayed the cost of my insanely beautiful mountain views, I wouldn’t mind hikers either… as long as they didn’t let my cows loose.

We’ve never seen so many types of cow barriers – and he grew up on a farm!  Amazed by the variety, I started taking pictures of them.  Who knew there were so many different ways to keep cows in?

Note the little ladder for people to walk over on the right side in the photo above. Genius.  Not that it couldn’t be improved by a railing.  Solar powered cow fences like the one below are pretty common.  Now I’ve seen everything.

Some fences are a little more old school.  I like how they wrote “please close the door” in Sharpie (in German) on the gate post.

Whatever you do, be careful, when taking pictures.  Don’t back up into one of these bad boys or you are in for a nasty shock.   Take my word for it.

You see some good old-fashioned American-style barbed wire too.  It’s not good to back up into either.  You’d think I’d learn, but with views like these, it’s easy to be distracted.

The turnstiles are pretty cool, kind of like getting on the subway.   You see, in Switzerland, they take their cows pretty seriously.  If you have tasted their dairy, you know why.  In fact, it was just in the news last week that dairy farmers in Switzerland are field-testing a new device that allows cows to send texts to show they are, um, feeling frisky.  Yep.  You read that correctly.   Some Swiss cows are have sensors that gauge their readiness to mate and sends their owner a text message when they’re in heat.

Whatever you do, just be sure to close the gate and don’t let the cows out!  Who knows what kind of trouble they could get up to?

We Fit Almost Every Swiss Cliche Into One Day

My mom has been visiting.  We wanted her to see as much Swissness as possible during her visit so we took her to Brig to see the Cow Festival.*  It was perfect.  I’m sure that if we brainstormed, we could fit a few more Swiss clichés into the day, but they hit all the big ones.

It was interesting to watch them try to move something so big that did not want to move.

We arrived in Brig a bit early and got to see the cows arriving.  They may walk down from alpine pastures, but they take trailers to the parade.  The cows are a special kind of Swiss cow that is raised almost exclusively in the Valais region, Herens.  These cows are known for being particularly aggressive.  In the spring, this area has cow fighting contests.  Here’s a YouTube clip for inquiring minds.

Do I look like I want to wear a flower hat?
I’m in love.  Again.  We had a connection.
My favorite part of the parade
Traditional costumes

This is the capital of raclette.  When in Rome…

What’s a parade without someone handing out samples of local wine? 
They also baptise the crowd with wine. Yes, they really do. Check out the guy in the plaid shirt’s face.
Alphorns!  They sounded great echoing through the valley.
They handed out the apples decorating this float to the crowd.  They did not hand out the cauliflower.
I’m not sure if this is traditionally Swiss.
Carved woods signs announcing the top cows = uber Swiss
Note the ribbons.  That cow is all done up for a night on the town.

Mountain Reine National translates to National Mountain Queen.  She is the prize cow so to speak.  Do you think she won the smack down? 

Sometimes, the cows got really excited about hitting the grass at the end of the parade.
They were lined up according to number and set about eating (and, ahem,  answering nature’s call).
Another cute parade participant
Sorry I didn’t get any decent pictures of the goats.  They were unruly to say the least.
Other parade participants. It said “Heidi” across the back of the cart!
*In the end of September and beginning of October, Switzerland has festivals all over the country to celebrate cow’s descent from alpine pastures.  This was one such affair.

 

When Cows Fly

From a Swiss travel brochure, you’ve got to love it!

Cows graze in the high altitudes all summer.  Occasionally, they find themselves in trouble. Click on these YouTube links to see what happens when they do:

 

 

Lost in Translation – Prize Bull

 
English Translation:
“FORS” WILL BE HARD WON
 

Christened yesterday “Fors-ver-der-Lueg”. This young bull is the pride of breeder Kaltacker (Bern), Hans Bichsel. It must be said that the animal has been chosen to be delivered to winner 2013 edition of the National Swiss Wrestling Festival (aka Schwingen) of struggle, which has has kicked off in Burgdorf.

 
I’m speachless. This is fantastic! We must go next year.
 

 

Les Incompetents Vol. 2 – Being Taken at the Museum of the Alpine Cow

Okay, I think it really translates as the Museum of the Alpine Pastures of Cows but that is beside the point. Since he is from a cattle farm, when we passed this museum we had to stop.  We were so excited that when we pulled up to the old barn containing it, I went straight inside and asked the old gentlemen sitting there (in my best French) what the price of admission was.  There was no sign for prices.  They said 12 Euros. I think it was free and should have kept my big mouth shut.

Enjoy the pictures of cow bells.  They had lots.  I wouldn’t necessarily have made the trip across the pond for it, but it was interesting. Nevertheless, I showed them. I took pictures before I realized you weren’t supposed to do so. Double oops.

Alpine Milk and High Altitude Cows – aka I Need More Cowbell

The commercial says that “happy cows come from California“.   Happier cows come from Switzerland.  We saw them when we hiked the “Sentier des Frommageries”, the cheesemaker‘s path, from a cute little town called Gruyeres.  Don’t they look happy wearing their bells?
They have the life.  They get to summer in the mountains, surrounded by amazing scenery and changing pastures a couple of times a day. They drink from tubs like these.  Note the one below is made from a hollowed out log.
The only down side is that you can’t make a run for it, not that you would want to anyway.
This says: “Please please close the gate thank you”
Note the not one, not two, but three strands of barbed wire below.  Keeping your cattle in is serious business.
 
Luckily, he knows his way around an electric fence.