Monday, February 25, 2013


Among the several scandals rocking the globe at the moment, is the one about horsemeat. It has been turning up in food when it shouldn't and people are very upset about it. Some big companies, including Nestle and IKEA have woken up to a nightmare situation. Of course, everybody is denying culpability: "We had no idea it was used in our products. " So what else is new?

A week ago, Nestle had to recall two chilled pasta products - Buitoni Beef Ravioli and Beef Tortellini - from store shelves in Italy and Spain as well as a lasagna product sold to French catering businesses. They all used meat from a particular German supplier (H.J. Schypke) which apparently contained horse.

Now IKEA has found that its famous Swedish meatballs may contain horsemeat as well. It has had to withdraw them from sale in 14 European countries. In the UK food safety officials found the supposedly "all beef" lasagna sold by the UK firm Findus, contained horsemeat (and pig meat). Horse DNA also turned up in hamburger meat in Ireland. In Scotland, frozen hamburgers at a school were found to contain horsemeat as well. There's more.

Horsemeat could be lurking anywhere in our burgers, meat balls, sheperd's pie, moussaka, pastas and pizzas. This finding has created a big global furor. So what's the problem? People in some countries (e.g. Tongans, Mongolians and some Hispanic and European populations) eat horsemeat all the time. Is it really unsafe?

Leaving aside any emotional feelings you may have about the issue, there is nothing inherently dangerous about horsemeat. In fact, it is a perfectly good source of protein, low in fat and a good source of Omega 3s, and if mixed with other meat and flavored, doesn't taste too bad. The main issue is that it could contain drug residues. Unfortunately, horses may be given a wide range of drugs, including ones like phenylbutazone, also known as bute, which is harmful to humans. Many may have been injected with with illegal drugs. We don't know what they are and we don't even know the effect of the residues on human health.

In all, it is probably safer not to eat horsemeat in most countries on a regular basis. But if you find out that the dish you at in Mongolia that was supposed to be "camel" or "yak" was actually horse, don't worry. The chances are that the horse received far fewer drugs than its counterpart in Britain, France or the U.S.

To your good health,