- Horse meat does not pose a food safety risk, but is more of a perception issue by consumers.
- From a food safety perspective, the EU horse meat scandal is more of a ‘traceability’ issue for those companies involved.
- In Europe, there were many suppliers and many middleman involved as meat was sourced from various countries in Europe. The testing of meat continues. A table of test results - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-21412590
- It is once again legal to slaughter horses in the US, but currently, no US facilities are doing so. And FSIS does not allow imported horse meat.
- In 2010, some 137,000 horses were sent from the US to Mexico and Canada to be slaughtered.
- Meat testing is done primarily by DNA testing using PCR methodology. ELISA technology (using antibodies) is also used, but is not as effective for processed meat products.
U.S. officials: No horse meat in our beef
The U.S. has not become embroiled in the horse meat scandal in Europe
Elizabeth Weise7:42p.m. EST March 1, 2013 USA Today
The horse meat scandal in Europe keeps getting bigger but U.S. officials say it's unlikely there's any horse meat hidden in U.S. meat products.
Genetic tests have found ground horse meat in beef in Ireland, Britain, Germany, Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic. On Friday Taco Bell outlets in Britain found traces of the meat in what was supposed to be 100% beef. The company has removed all beef products from its menu in the United Kingdom.
There is no link between Taco Bell suppliers in Europe and the United States, the company said.
How the horse meat entered the European food supply is unknown.
The United States imports no beef from the European countries that found horse meat labeled as beef, Dept. of Agriculture officials said. "For imported products, (the U.S.) conducts port-of-entry re-inspections of all products offered for import into the United States, which provides evidence of how the foreign country's inspection system is performing," said Catherine Cochran with the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS.) In addition, "FSIS conducts on-site food regulatory system audits at least once every three years in every country that exports meat, poultry, or egg products to our country."
Horse meat cannot be sold for human consumption in the United States, Cochran added. "There are currently no establishments in the United States that slaughter horses, and FSIS does not allow imports of horse meat from other countries for human consumption."
Furthermore, it's unlikely that horse meat disguised at beef or pork could make its way into the U.S. meat supply because "the meat and poultry inspection process in the U.S. puts FSIS inspectors carrying out our mandatory inspection requirements in U.S. plants every day they operate," she said.
Neither USDA nor FDA food inspections require genetic testing of meat to insure that it's from a particular animal, but any food so mislabeled would be grounds for food fraud allegations.
There's nothing intrinsically dangerous about eating horse meat. The lean meat is popular and heavily consumed in much of the world, especially Europe and China. But the initial danger is not the problem, said Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer in Seattle. "It's not so much a food safety issue, it's a food fraud issue. Obviously if someone's willing to fraudulently sell you horse meat and tell you it's beef, you have to question their interest in food safety as well."
Many animal rights groups have argued that horse meat shouldn't be sold for human consumption anywhere because horses are not raised under conditions that insure that their meat is safe to eat. Horses are work or race animals and they are often given drugs that make their flesh unsuitable for human consumption. Richard Raymond, former undersecretary for Food Safety at USDA, said there have been questions about butazolidin(called 'bute') a drug used to treat lameness and arthritis in horses, especially in race horses.
Horse meat hasn't always been illegal in the United State. Up until 2005 FSIS regularly inspected horse slaughter plants along with all other types of meat production facilities. Animal rights activists made a major push to stop the sale of horse meat and Congress added an amendment to the Agricultural Appropriations Act taking away funding for the inspection of horses being transported to slaughter.
FSIS then made horse inspection a fee-for-service inspection, just as bison still is. Congress went back and rewrote the law saying no money could be spent at "any inspection of horse slaughter," said Raymond, who at USDA at the time. By 2007 the last three American facilities that slaughtered horses for human consumption were shut down, according to a petition filed with USDA by the Humane Society in 2012.
Today American horses are still slaughtered for food, it just takes place in Mexico and Canada rather than on U.S. soil. The Government Accountability Office found that in 2010 more than 137,000 U.S. horses were sent to Mexico and Canada each year to be slaughtered. That's about as many were slaughtered in the United States before the ban went into effect in 2007, GAO said.
The recession and this year's drought, which drove up feed prices, has been very hard on horse owners. Many horses are neglected or abandoned by owners who can no longer afford food for them.
In fact, most of the horse meat in those two countries, which is sold to Europe, comes from horses raised in the United States. Canada is the largest exporter of horsemeat to Europe, according to the Humane Society of Canada, which is working to ban the practice there.
Two companies are currently trying to open horse slaughter plants in the United States, on in Missouri and one in New Mexico. USDA is reviewing their applications.
It's "doubtful" any dangerous pathogens were in the horse meat Europeans have inadvertently eaten, said Doug Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.
"It has been found in meals and products that are highly processed—the bad bugs would be cooked away." It's the public's trust that's been broken "and since almost all food safety at retail is faith-based, the faith has been violated."
Horse slaughtering legal in US, but public won't bite
By Daniel Arkin, Staff Writer, NBC News
The discovery of horse DNA in food products sold throughout Europe has set off a scandal, shaking confidence in Europe's food industry and angering consumers.
But believe it or not, it’s actually legal to slaughter horses for human consumption in the U.S. In November 2011, Congress quietly lifted a five-year ban on funding for horse processing inspections.
Since the ban was lifted, no horse slaughterhouses have successfully opened, according to Holly Hazard, a senior vice president at the Humane Society of the United States who tracks equine rights issues.
“We have yet to have a new [horse processing] facility open in this country,” Hazard said, adding that attempts to open slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Missouri last year were scrapped due to public outrage.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said that if a horse slaughtering plant were to open, the agency would perform inspections to ensure it complied with federal laws.
Before Congress defunded inspections in 2007, there were just three equine processing plants in the continental U.S. -- two in Texas, one in Illinois. All three facilities were shuttered when the slaughtering ban took effect, the Associated Press reported.
At the peak of their production powers, these slaughterhouses primarily exported horsemeat to Mexico and Canada for human consumption, Hazard said.
One advocate of selling horse meat said that the removal of the ban allows the horse processing industry to regain a foothold in the market.
"Eighty percent of a $102 billion-a-year industry was directly affected when they took slaughter away," said David Duquette, president of the United Horsemen, a group that lobbied to lift the ban.
Duquette added that there are ongoing efforts to revive the horse meat processing industry, but declined to provide additional information about those attempts.
Animal rights activists, meanwhile, are confident that widespread repulsion at the thought of eating horse meat will keep it out of the mainstream.
"There are certainly communities that have considered [reviving horse slaughtering]," said Nancy Perry, a senior vice president at the ASPCA. But the vast majority of Americans -- a staggering 80 percent,
according to a recent ASPCA poll -- oppose the practice, Perry said.
'Companions and partners, not food'
Polling data and public opinion suggest it's highly unlikely horse meat will move to the center of American culinary culture. After all, they’re the stars of beloved children’s literature, Hollywood movies, and Wild West folklore.
“We believe horses are iconic figures in American culture,” Hazard said. “The vast majority of Americans think they’re companions and partners, not food.”
Hazard said she’s not aware of any attempts to introduce horse meat on restaurant menus. The one exception: a proposal, in September of last year, to serve Canadian-bred horse tartare -- also known as raw horse meat -- at a museum restaurant in New York City.
However, M. Wells Dinette's prospective menu item at MoMA PS1 was scuttled after
The restaurant’s chef and co-owner, Hugue Dufour,
released a statement after the controversy subsided defending his exotic dish.
“We thought about serving it because we like to offer customers new things,” the statement said. “Whatever else horses are – draft animals, companions, transport – their meat is also delicious and affordable.”
Nevertheless, most Americans still consider horse meat off-limits, although that hasn't always been the case.
At the close of World War II, when beef was in short supply, many Americans got their protein boosts from horse meat. Republicans blamed the meat scarcity on President Truman, giving him the nickname “Horsemeat Harry.”
During the early 1970s, beef prices went through the roof, forcing cash-strapped shoppers to buy cheap horse meat instead. The custom was so common it showed up as a subplot on a 1973 episode of the sitcom
Harvard University’s Faculty Club reportedly served horse meat for more than 100 years before it dropped the menu item in the 1980s.