When horse meat was discovered in beef hamburgers in Ireland last month, governments, corporations and regulators assured a panicked public that it was completely safe to eat. But a post-scandal look at how the deception occurred raises red flags not just about the safety and quality of the world’s processed foods, but the bizarre corporate supply chain that produces it.
Working backward from Ireland
Attempting to find out how and where the horse meat was substituted for beef and mislabeled, European regulators started in Ireland and the UK. That’s where the first discoveries were made. Score one for Britain and Ireland for actually testing the food their citizens are purchasing and consuming. Within days of the first announcement in Ireland, the UK’s largest grocery chains began testing their products. To their horror, some of the most widely consumed beef products in Europe were found to be made with some or all horse meat.
Three separate British food manufacturers cooperated with authorities and all three had purchased their beef-labeled horse meat from the same company in France, Comigel. After checking its own records, the French company confirmed that they purchased the mislabeled meat from a corporation in Luxembourg called Tavola that also happens to be one of its subsidiaries.
Luxembourg’s Tavola checked its records for authorities and verified that it had purchased the meat in question from a company in France called Spanghero. When regulators checked with Spanghero, the French company insisted they in turn bought the mislabeled horse meat from a meat broker in Cyprus. When contacted by European investigators, the Cypriot dealer explained that it had purchased the fraudulent meat from another food trader in the Netherlands.
Finally the source is discovered
After crisscrossing Europe in an attempt to discover the guilty parties in the EU horse meat scandal, the Dutch trader informed investigators that the meat was purchased from a slaughterhouse and processor in Romania. The Romanian company swears the horse meat was labeled accurately, but that the labeling must have been switched to ‘beef’ at some point after it left its facilities.
The Dutch food broker, as well as the trader in Cyprus, confirmed that neither ever took physical possession of the meat. Not surprisingly, every single corporation from all seven European countries that sold the horse meat labeled as beef swears they were not the ones guilty of switching the labels.
As detailed by Associated Press, experts in the UK believe the horse meat scandal is a direct result of Europe’s recent banning of beef bi-products called, ‘desinewed meat’. Just like ‘pink slime’ in the US, consumers in Europe were horrified to find out that much of their beef food products were actually made with the left-overs of the cow carcass, by literally pulverizing and rubbing it until edible strands of protein are produced. Once it was banned last year, European food producers scrambled to find a replacement product. As is obvious now, some have turned to cheaper animals such as horses rather than cut into their corporate profits or raise the prices of their products slightly.
“Food is treated as a commodity. It’s not seen as something that contributes to well-being,” University of Warwick professor Elizabeth Dowler told AP, “The reality is that the food system is largely in the private sector and it is about running businesses, very successful businesses that make a lot of money.”
Dowler also predicted this latest scandal would lead to global corporations taking at least a small hit in the pocketbook for their deception and greed. “People will go back to buying pure beef that they’re going to prepare themselves,” she suggested, “Maybe, they’re even going to go back to the butcher, where they know what’s going on.” The professor of food and social policy also claimed that poorer consumers wouldn’t go back to the cheap, mysterious, processed foods. Instead of trading down, Dowler suggests, “They’re going to eat less.”
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