Q&A: What are the chances of a horse meat scandal in the United States?

images-4

SouthCoastToday.com / MARY CLARE JALONICK / Associated Press / March 06, 2013

Michael Lee/The Associated Press A in-store poster advertisement at the Ikea store in Canton, Mich., shows a newly placed sticker referring to the source of the meatballs served at the cafeteria in the store.The horse meat scandal that is hitting Europe has yet to spread to the United States, allowing American consumers to rest easier when buying ground beef or sitting down for a plate of meatballs at Ikea. Michael Lee/The Associated Press A in-store poster advertisement at the Ikea store in Canton, Mich., shows a newly placed sticker referring to the source of the meatballs served at the cafeteria in the store.The horse meat scandal that is hitting Europe has yet to spread to the United States, allowing American consumers to rest easier when buying ground beef or sitting down for a plate of meatballs at Ikea.

Michael Lee/The Associated Press A in-store poster advertisement at the Ikea store in Canton, Mich., shows a newly placed sticker referring to the source of the meatballs served at the cafeteria in the store.The horse meat scandal that is hitting Europe has yet to spread to the United States, allowing American consumers to rest easier when buying ground beef or sitting down for a plate of meatballs at Ikea.

(Note – This is a reposted article. Please click on the associated links at the top and bottom of the page to post comments. – Editor)

The horse meat scandal that is hitting Europe has yet to spread to the United States, allowing American consumers to rest easier when buying ground beef or sitting down for a plate of meatballs at IKEA.

The United States has rigorous meat inspections and horse meat isn’t readily available. So, while it’s certainly possible that small amounts of hidden horse meat has made its way into the United States, it’s unlikely to become a larger problem.

Some questions and answers about the problem:

Q: What’s happening in Europe?

A: Horse meat has recently been found mixed into beef dishes sold across Europe, including in frozen supermarket meals. It also has been found in meals served at restaurants, schools and hospitals. Furniture giant IKEA last week withdrew its famous meatballs from stores in 21 European countries and in Hong Kong, Thailand and the Dominican Republic after Czech food inspectors found traces of horse meat in them. Stores in the United States and Canada weren’t affected because they use a U.S. supplier.

Q: Is horse meat safe to eat?

A: What is at issue is fraudulent labeling, not a health risk. Horse meat is usually safe to eat, but it’s generally not consumed in the United States, mostly for cultural and ethical reasons. However, it’s considered a delicacy in some countries.

Q: Are horses even slaughtered in the U.S.?

A: Not right now. Three horse slaughter plants were shuttered five years ago after court action. Those plants produced meat that was mostly sold overseas.

Q: But horses are slaughtered in Mexico and Canada. Companies could import that meat and use it as a cheap substitute for beef, right?

A: Probably not. No horse meat is imported to the United States, so it would be hard for U.S. companies to obtain it in large quantities.

Q: What is the U.S. government doing to make sure Americans don’t face the problem?

A: U.S. food safety law requires meat inspectors to be present for a slaughterhouse to operate and those inspectors are present for many steps of the process. They can shut down the plants if they think something illegal is going on. The federal oversight also requires meat to be easily traceable to the plant where the animals were slaughtered.

Q: What about imports?

A: Only certain countries and companies can export meat to the United States, and the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service inspects products at the border and will test them if something appears to be amiss. According to the department, other checks include annual evaluations of the countries that export meat to the U.S. to make sure their food safety standards are those in the United States and on-site audits at least once every three years in every country that exports meat, poultry or egg products to the United States.

Q: What about packaged goods and processed foods from Europe or other regions that may include meat as an ingredient? Could those include horse meat?

A: That is one possible loophole. The Agriculture Department won’t say if it has additional checks on packaged or processed imports — European foods sold at specialty stores, for example. It is probably impossible for the government to test all those things at the border.

Q: Are large retailers conducting tests to make sure that horse meat hasn’t made its way into their products?

A: Unclear. Most U.S. retailers don’t have a lot of interest in wading into the European horse meat scandal. The Associated Press contacted Wal-Mart, Safeway, Kroger, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and other food industry representatives last week to ask what they are doing to ensure their products don’t have horse meat. None of the companies responded. Steven Guterman, chief executive officer of InstantLabs, a company that makes DNA tests that could detect horse meat, says his company has received orders for the tests from Europe but not from the United States since the scandal broke.

Q: So how can I be sure there’s no horse meat in the product these large food companies are selling?

A: According to George Dunaif of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the nation’s largest food companies, the industry takes a lot of steps to ensure the integrity of products. Suppliers must provide certificates showing that the products they are selling are labeled correctly and companies can demand certain standards. It’s also illegal to sell misbranded food, and most brands depend on consumer trust for survival. A scandal like the one in Europe can ruin companies.

Q: What about fast-food restaurants that sell huge volumes of beef?

A: Burger King says it has conducted unannounced audits of all of its suppliers globally, including in the United States, to ensure their meat is 100 percent beef. The company says most of its U.S. restaurants use domestic suppliers but some of the meat is from Australia and New Zealand, and that meat has been DNA tested for horse meat. McDonald’s said in a statement that the company “only works with a select group of approved beef suppliers that adhere to our stringent standards.”

Q: Should I be worried?

A: No. There just isn’t enough horse meat in the United States for it to make sense for meatpackers to illegally mix it in, and U.S. meat inspections in plants and checks at the border would most likely catch any large-scale scams.

Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mcjalonick

To Comment, click HERE!

AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
11 Comments
  • Marge Mullen

    Dear Mary you need to do more homework on the issue of horse slaughter and the horsemeat is here in the U.S.

    We all should be worried, very worried!!

    March 6, 2013
  • Mary

    horse meat would NOT be safe to eat if the horse has been wormed on the label of the worm medicine it has a warning label

    March 6, 2013
  • shirley mix

    I would be horrified to think I had eaten horse meat I own three. It would be like I had eaten a friend.

    March 6, 2013
  • Dana

    Well there are some inaccuracies in this article. 1- Horsemeat is unsafe to eat if obtained from a US source. Horses are injected with vaccines, antibiotics and various drugs over the course if there lifetime. Many equine medications are know carcinogens to humans.
    2- with the sequester the USDA funding is cut meaning fewer USDA inspectors… This will lead to all kinds of things getting thru.

    3- yes the US slaughter plants are closed but there are several bills on the table to reopen them. Again, leading to a possibility of horse meat making its way into our food supply.

    4- US horses are still sold at auctions everyday for slaughter in Mexico and Canada. Camelot in NJ, unadilla, Pennsylvania and on and on.

    March 6, 2013
  • Sue

    I find it very telling when this author states “None of the companies responded.” Hm….they won’t deny having horse meat in their products because????

    March 6, 2013
  • Horses were mixed in with beef before right under the noses of govt inspectors.A midwestern hide buyer noticed he had purchased horse hides on several occasions from more than a few slaughter houses.

    March 6, 2013
  • Nancy

    Here’s an idea… Lets just stop eating meat! That would fix the whole disgusting situation! At the very least from now on only purchase meat products that are Organic and NOT factory farmed. Yes it will cost us more money, and that’s because it’s expensive to do it right! It takes a lot more time to allow the animal to grow without growth hormones. And it takes space and a clean environment for the animal to thrive and be healthy without being pumped up with antibiotics. And feeding real food thats appropriate, normal, and healthy for the nourishment of the animal being raised for it’s meat is more expensive than the crap that alot of factory farmed animals are raised on. Remember, every time we make a purchase what we’re saying to the company that produced it is “Good job, keep it up!”

    March 6, 2013
  • i don’t think the us should slaughter horses for meat thats just wrong all the way around but i have seen some sights on the net saying that the us may start slaughtering horses for meat i hope and pray that never happens people should fight this and not let it happen!
    these animals should be saved and not sold to slaughters houses.
    so please everyone fight this!

    March 6, 2013
  • MorganG

    commented at the original article when, after reading it, my head exploded. there were just too many inaccuracies to let them go. I think you would be safer licking the inside of your toilet bowl than eating horsemeat. sorry for the visual

    March 6, 2013
  • No, we don’t have horse slaughter in the US – right now. But, those who believe they can make money slaughtering US horses are well funded and seem to have no problem at all with the fact that American horses are regularly exposed to veterinary medications and other horse products that contain substances that are NEVER supposed to enter the human food chain. This is appalling! And, interestingly, it’s Big Meat/Cattle that is one of the most vocal and big spending groups who are fighting tooth and nail to get horse slaughter back on US soil. Why? What could the slaughter of a non-food animal by a foreign industry that will send all the product – and profits – overseas have to do with American meat producers? I’ve been asking that question for years, and I’ve never gotten a reply either.

    March 7, 2013
    • Morgan Griffith

      We all would like to know the answer to that question Suzanne. Why would they want any competition for their product? And why would the beef industry want to associate with such low class varmints? Don’t understand what they are getting out of this association.

      March 7, 2013