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.
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?
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.
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.
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.