Guest Op Ed: A little mystery with our meat
Bob Gaydos, April 6, 2013
The horse-meat-in-ground-beef scandal that broke in Europe at the beginning of the year has spawned numerous investigations there as well as a booming business for food-testing companies. But it has thus far not crossed the pond to the United States.
Or has it?
Americans are famous, even notorious, for thinking that the oceans and our inflated sense of entitlement and superiority, protect us from many of the major ills that plague the rest of the world. We don’t eat horses, we say; we don’t slaughter horses, we say. Therefore, we say, there’s no danger that horsemeat has been mixed into some of our hamburger meat.
It’s a comfortable way to look at things, if not an entirely realistic one. And this American, for one, had his comfort level shaken recently on reading a headline that asked, “Is the mob involved in horse meat scandal.”
Duh. Of course “the mob,” however one defines it, on whatever continent one chooses, is involved in the horse meat scandal. If there is money to be made by cheating, lying or stealing from others, “the mob,” in all its forms will be involved. And this crime has the advantage of being non-violent. All it takes is some people willing to go along, for a price or a threat, with the scheme. Plus, we’re talking about doctoring ground beef, for Pete’s sake. Everyone eats it and no one suspects it.
And it’s not just the possible mob connection that has raised more suspicions that the scandal is going to get a lot bigger. Last week, in London, where the horse meat scandal is in full bloom, samples of curries and kebabs from six food outlets were tested by scientists hired by the BBC. The scientists found one burger contained no beef, save for blood and heart. One curry sample did contain meat but, a BBC spokesperson said, “that meat was not lamb, not pork, nor was it chicken or beef. Not horse. and not goat either.” The London Daily Mail wondered if it could be dog meat, noting that dog meat had been found in samples of pet food in Spain.
The horse meat scandal has spread from a meat-cutting plant in Wales to the entire British Isles, as horse meat from Poland has turned up in beef at Burger King and Tesco, as well as in major supermarkets and brand name processed foods, including Birds Eye. Brits have no delusions anymore about their food being what it says on the label. Nor do Swedes, since horse meat was found in the furniture giant’s Swedish meatballs.
There’s more. And far from London. In South Africa, a team of university scientists, curious because of the European scandal, found traces of human tissue in beef samples meant for human consumption in nine provinces across the nation. According to research.com, the scientists said there was “no threat” in eating the samples, which one scientist speculated could have been from a worker cutting himself or picking his nose at a meat-processing plant. Yumm. (Or, connecting some other dots, what a convenient way to get rid of a troublemaker.)
The South African scientists also reported that nearly half of the “game” samples they tested were, in fact, beef, and that ostrich sausages, a local treat, were found to contain pork and even kangaroo meat. The scientists were not concerned about the obvious intentional mislabeling.
Meanwhile, back in the good old USA, where we don’t slaughter horses, the governor of Oklahoma just signed a bill authorizing the slaughtering of horses. Similar efforts are being made in New Mexico, Washington and elsewhere. Oklahomans by a wide margin opposed the bill, but legislators paid them no mind. They justified the bill by noting that the horses slaughtered could not be sold for human consumption in the United States.
Really? There are no inspectors or food-processing executives willing to take bribes? Horses from this country have been sold to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. Shipments from those countries cannot legally be sold to American firms, but they do pass through a port in Texas on the way elsewhere. Seems I’ve heard a rumor about “the mob” having some kind of influence on the docks.
Still not worried? What’s wrong with a little horse meat in my burger? you ask. Obviously the moral argument about Americans not eating animals who are pets, companions or sporting teammates doesn’t sway you. How about the possibility that the horse meat may be tainted with medications widely used on horses in the United States, including phenylbutazone (bute), a pain reliever which is a known carcinogen for humans.
These drugs cannot be administered to horses raised for food in the U.S. (which is none), but the horse slaughter lobbyists are angling to buy and slaughter the large supply of wild mustangs that have been rounded up as well as former race horses, rodeo horses and personal steeds without a home. Those horses have all likely been medicated and there is not likely to be anyone checking each horse for drugs at a slaughterhouse, where speed is a priority.
I’ll toss in the fact that it’s tough enough to know what’s in genuine ground beef, since it comes from many sources and I will resist the temptation to mention that some Americans suspect that, like in Spain, shelter dogs — and cats — may be winding up in pet food in this country. One step removed.
It is a fetid stew and very profitable for a select few. Perhaps Americans will someday get around to caring about their food labels being reliable and factual. Or maybe start shopping with an eye to wanting to know what they’re eating. But it sure would also be reassuring if someone in a position of authority started testing this system and putting checks in place to serve as a backup to that big ocean in which we place so much trust.
Bob Gaydos is veteran of 40-plus years in daily newspapers. He began as police reporter with The (Binghamton) Sun-Bulletin, eventually covering government and politics as well as serving as city editor, features editor, sports editor and executive editor. He was also managing editor of the Evening Capital in Annapolis, Md. He retired from daily newspapering in 2007 after 29 years with the Times Herald-Record, where he was Sunday/features editor and, for 23 years, editorial page editor. He won numerous awards for his editorials from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association and The Associated Press and in 1992 was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Gaydos continues to write on a freelance basis, including a column on addiction for the Record. He is also is focused on guiding his two teenaged sons through college.