Euro scandal shows the big money in horsemeat is in labeling it “beef”

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2013:

 

PARIS––At least 28 companies in 13 European nations plus
Hong Kong have been involved in marketing horsemeat as beef, French
government investigators assessed in mid-February 2013, predicting that
more alleged perpetrators would be exposed by ongoing investigations.
Entrepreneurs seeking to resume horse slaughter in the U.S. have
argued that they would market to an upscale clientele in nations
including Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Japan, who would
demand that horses were transported and killed humanely. But the
horsemeat-as-beef scandal has revealed just the opposite: by far the
greater portion of the European horsemeat trade involves the lowest
priced meat products, in which the ingredients are most easily
disguised, and about which consumers and regulators tend to ask the
fewest questions.


“The motivation for passing off horsemeat as beef appeared to
be financial,” affirmed Angela Charlton of Associated Press on
February 10, 2013, summarizing statements by Benoit Hamon, the French
junior minister for consumer goods.
Though horsemeat is still openly consumed in France, French
foreign minister Laurent Fabius called the substitution of horsemeat for
beef an “abominable” fraud.
The horsemeat-as-beef scandal erupted when on January 15, 2013
the Food Safety Authority of Ireland disclosed that horse DNA had been
found in burger products sold by major British and Irish supermarkets.
The British Food Standards Agency confirmed the finding, discovering
that 29 of 2,401 products tested included at least 1% horse DNA.
Expanded testing soon found that some “beef lasagna” products
contained from 30% to 100% horse meat.

Finger-pointing

Silvercrest Foods, headquartered in Ireland, recalled 10
million suspect burgers and other products including ground meat.
Several other companies also recalled products. Ireland, with the
fastest-growing horse slaughtering industry in Europe, was initially
suspected to be the source of the horsemeat sold as beef. Of the
57,000 horses killed in Ireland for human consumption since 2008, when
2,002 horses were slaughtered, 24,000 were killed in 2012 alone, Irish
agriculture minister Simon Covency told Dan Griffin of the Irish Times.

But two other companies involved in the recalls, Findus and
Aldi, blamed the French meat supplier Comigel. Other companies pointed
toward Romania and Poland. Romania, where horses are still widely used
for farm work, is a known major supplier of horsemeat, and exports
about 40,000 horses per year for slaughter in other nations. Poland
exports about 25,000 horses per year for slaughter, but has no
slaughterhouses licensed to kill horses for human consumption, Polish
deputy veterinary officer Jaroslaw Naze told media.
“The United Kingdom imported 6,200 tons of beef from Poland in
2012, 3.5 times the amount imported in 2010, because of cheap prices,
although this still represented less than 3% of all beef imports,”
noted James Meikle, Jemma Buckley and Felicity Lawrence of the
Guardian.
Despite the fingers pointed abroad, the first three reported
arrests for alleged fraud in connection with selling horsemeat as beef
came in Wales and Yorkshire on February 14, 2013. One of the men who
were arrested was an employee of the Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse
in Todmorden, West Yorkshire.
“Horses killed during Grand National meetings at Aintree have
been taken away for years by a Yorkshire slaughterhouse now suspected of
supplying horse meat for burgers and kebabs, Irish Times London editor
Mark Hennessy reported on February 15, 2013. “The firm, owned by
Peter Boddy, was closed down earlier this week after it was raided by
police and food safety inspectors, who believe it supplied horsemeat to
a Welsh plant.
“Two horses were put down by lethal injection in last year’s
Grand National,” Hennessy recalled. Aintree spokespersons confirmed
that any carcasses removed would be “totally unsuitable for
consumption,” Hennessy wrote.
The British charity Animal Aid told Hennessy that more than
1,100 ex-racehorses were killed or rendered by British slaughterhouses
in 2011.

Bute & trichinella

British food minister David Heath acknowledged on February 7,
2013 that eight horses out of a lot of 206 whose carcasses were tested
for contamination during the preceding week showed traces of the
anti-inflamatory drug phenylbutazone. Called “Bute” for short,
phenylbutzaone is often given to racehorses, but is banned for use in
animals who will be slaughtered for human consumption, because
ingesting only small amounts can induce conditions including heart
failure. Six of the contaminated carcasses were shipped to France.
Both French agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll and British
chief medical officer Sally Davies asserted that the level of
phenylbutazone found would only be dangerous if a consumer ate 500 horse
hamburgers per day.
But Damian Carrington, James Meikle and Simon Neville of The
Guardian a week later revealed that “In July 2012 the Veterinary
Residues Committee, which advises the government, warned that it had
‘repeatedly expressed concern’ about bute entering the food chain.
Only 145 tests were conducted in the whole of 2012 and about 50 a year
before that,” Carrington, Meikle, and Neville wrote. “In the
case of the two carcasses that tested positive for bute in 2012 and were
not reported to the FSA for months, the horsemeat is thought to have
left abattoirs in May and October, but the positive results did not
arrive at the FSA until 10 days ago. In the meantime the meat had gone
to the Netherlands and France.”
The rate of bute contamination found by the limited testing done
in 2010-2012 and early 2013 “would mean hundreds of affected UK horses
entering the food chain every Year,” Carrington, Meikle, and
Neville pointed out.
But veterinarian Richard A.L. Brown of the Bellevue Veterinary
Center in Banff, Scotland, warned that the worm-carried disease
trichinella might be a greater threat to the public from consuming
horsemeat than the risk of ingesting bute. “I suspect the only saving
grace may be the cooking by the consumer,” Brown told the
International Society for Infectious Diseases’ Program for Monitoring
Emerging Diseases.
Concern about grazing animals ingesting and passing along
trichinella cysts rose in Europe after cysts were discovered in December
2012 in the carcasses of feral pigs shot by hunters near Malaga, Spain.
“Despite claims that trichinellosis has been eradicated from
Europe, there have been a number of cases reported over the last
decades, mainly due to ingestion of horse meat. The country with the
largest number of cases is Romania,” posted ProMed wildlife disease
moderator Pablo Beldominico.

Horse spelled backward

Meanwhile, Associated Press correspondent Toby Sterling
reported, “A company called Draap Trading Ltd. moved to the center of
Europe’s horsemeat mislabeling scandal. Draap is ‘horse’ spelled
backward in Dutch,” Sterling noted.
“Court documents in the city of Breda, Netherlands, show
that a Jan Fasen was convicted on January 18, 2012 as the main suspect
in a case where hundreds of thousands of kilograms of horsemeat or
horsemeat mixed with beef were mislabeled as containing only beef and
sold to two unnamed French buyers.
“Jeffrey Grootenboer, owner of the freezer warehouse
Nemijtek, readily identified Fasen from a photograph as also being the
owner of Draap.” Sterling continued. “In the 2012 case, Fasen’s
company Fasen Meat Trading BV and its accomplice Windmeijer Meat Trading
BV sourced cheap horsemeat from Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, marked it
up, and sold it on, in some cases certified as being halal beef
slaughtered according to Muslim dietary laws. Fasen was sentenced to a
year in prison for his role in the scam, which took place over two
years in 2007-2009. In December 2008,” Sterling added, “Fasen
dissolved Fasen Meat Trading. The same year he founded Draap Trading,
registering it in Limassol, Cyprus.”
The Guardian reported that Fasen admitted selling horsemeat to
the French firm Spanghero, but denied mislabeling it. French consumer
affairs minister Benoit Hamon identified Spanghero as the first “agent”
to have marketed the horsemeat in the current investigation as beef.
“The French authorities found that Spanghero had profited to the tune
of more than $660,000 over six months by marketing the cheap horsemeat
as much more expensive beef,” the Guardian said.
Transborder traffic in live horses for slaughter within the
European Union has fallen by about 100,000 since 2001, but net horse
consumption appears to have increased.
“The number of horses exported for meat from Canada and
Mexico, where most U.S. horses go for slaughter, jumped to over
160,000 in 2012,” said Jo Swabe, the Humane Society International
representative in Brussels.
“The more people have looked for horsemeat, the more products
have been found containing it,” senior British food inspector Duncan
Campbell told Jill Lawless of Associated Press. “I don’t think we
have got to the bottom of it yet.”

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