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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Horsemeat Scandal Still Riding at a Gallop

The horsemeat scandal is still having a ripple effect across Europe, as officials announced this week that about 5 percent of beef products—everything from frozen lasagna to Swedish meatballs—tested positive for containing horse DNA. More than 7,000 tests were conducted throughout all 27 countries in the European Union, with the most equine content showing up in France and Greece, where about one in every eight beef products in those two countries was actually horse. In Britain, about 2 percent of all products tested positive for phenylbutazone, an equine painkiller banned from the human food chain.

HorseThe test results are shocking, but don’t even account for the dozens of other veterinary drugs commonly used to treat horses, and the lack of any tracking mechanisms when horses are scooped up from random sources and put into the horse slaughter pipeline. As Humane Society International European Union Director Joanna Swabe, Ph.D., noted:
Testing for just one of the many drugs banned for use in animals that enter the food chain falls short of a precautionary and thorough approach to addressing fraud and ensuring food safety standards are met. It isn’t just phenylbutazone (“bute”) in horsemeat that poses a potential risk to human health. The European Commission has failed to seek tests for a whole host of other banned veterinary drugs, which are commonly administered to horses, and is thereby failing the public by allowing meat from these animals to be sold in the European Union in contravention of its own food safety and consumer protection regulations.

It’s one more reason for the U.S. Congress to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, S. 541 and H.R. 1094, introduced by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Reps. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. About 20 percent of the horsemeat sold in Europe comes from North American horses, many of them used for competition and companionship and given veterinary medicines throughout their lives. And some would-be horse slaughter profiteers are actively trying to open plants here in the U.S., which would make it much more difficult to avoid the type of commingling and food fraud—with horsemeat being passed off as beef—that we saw in Europe.   

Yesterday, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King expressed his “grave concerns over the potential health risks associated with consumption of horse meat” processed at a proposed horse slaughtering plant in his state, noting that the experience in Europe shows there is no foolproof way to be certain that horsemeat will not enter the human food chain here in the U.S. We applaud the state and federal officials who are speaking out—recognizing that the predatory killer buyers who outbid families and rescue groups so they can scoop up healthy horses and sell their meat by the pound are not providing a “service” to horses, but are creating threats to our equine companions and to food safety here and abroad.

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