No thank you, I’m a little horse

Godfather horse's head sceneSupermarkets get what they want from their suppliers. What they want is products cheaper every time. Each 2-for-1 offer, every product not sold by its use-by date or marked down to pence for quick sale, is paid for by the supplier, not the supermarket.

Supermarkets demand cheaper and cheaper meat. Suppliers must provide it. When a scandal hits the media and some meat products are withdrawn, it’s the supplier who pays, not the supermarket – and the supermarkets will cast blame on the supplier, not on their own practices.

Peter/PME2013 points out (quite rightly) that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating a horse, if you’re prepared to eat a cow or a pig or a sheep: it is a purely British food prejudice that declares horse to be not-a-food-animal-for-humans. As a vegetarian, I have no dog in this fight.

But the question of food safety is another matter. An animal reared to be eaten for food by humans is in principle at least subject to certain standards of upkeep – which standards are not applied to an animal which it is presumed will not be eaten by humans.

The BBC, March 2011:

The loss of healthy thoroughbreds has become a harsh reality of this economic crisis.

And abattoirs, where horses are slaughtered for their meat for human consumption, have become a growth industry.

In 2008, there was just one in the Republic of Ireland, but today there are five.

Last year, 9,790 horses were killed in them. Of these, the BBC has learnt that 4,618 were thoroughbreds.

But this is not the whole picture. Figures are not available for the number of horses that have ended up in Ireland’s 40 registered knacker’s yards.

Shane O’Dwyer, from the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (ITBA), acknowledges that there was over-breeding at the height of the Celtic Tiger boom but he believes for many owners, putting horses down was the responsible thing to do.

Supermarkets are blaming their suppliers for providing them with cheap meat products that include horse. The new Groceries Code Adjudicator has the power to name-and-shame supermarkets that abuse their suppliers, but not to penalise them.

The big four supermarkets – ASDA, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s – control 75% of the grocery market in the UK and aim to keep their prices low and their profits high. They use their enormous size and influence to put their suppliers under immense pressure to produce goods as cheaply as possible. As well as squeezing their suppliers on price, they dictate terms and agreements, like forcing them to take on costs for discounts and promotions. These pressures then get passed on to the people who grow, pick and pack our food in low wages, long hours and poor working conditions. (War On Want)

The Belfast Telegraph, May 2012:

The meat of unwanted pet ponies and even former racehorses is being sent from Ireland to end up in restaurants across Europe despite being unfit for human consumption.

It has been claimed that every week, up to 1,000 old, sick and crippled horses are ending up on the plates of diners in France and Italy despite much of the meat being toxic to humans.

Animal investigators have said criminal gangs, who advertise on the internet for unwanted horses, are shipping the Irish horsemeat across the channel making millions out of the dangerous operation.

And the question that’s floating across several papers over the last few days:

“None of these animals is fit for human consumption,” a source told the Daily Mirror. “Most of them have been medicated with phenylbutazone for pain and inflammation and their flesh is effectively toxic.

“This drug has been found to cause leukaemia in children.”

Is Phenylbutazone safe for humans?

  • Answer #1: Definitely not! Although, you will get the results desired by taking it, the side effects massively outweigh the benefits.
  • Answer #2: Bute (phenylbutazone) is not inherently unsafe for human use. It has a host of associated POTENTIAL side effects which are most likely to occur with prolonged usage, as is typical of most of NSAIDs and drugs in general. Short term usage at reasonable doses is unlikely (statistically speaking) to have any side effects. Potential side effects from prolonged usage are aplastic anemia and liver or kidney damage.

This gives context to Sally Davies’s statement that there is a limited public health risk.

The horses that were slaughtered for the production of cheap meat products may or may not have been given bute: people who ate them may or may not have consumed enough to cause any of the unpleasant side-effects. Statistically speaking, even if you ate quite a lot of the cheap meat products, your odds are good.

It is naturally much nicer for the big four supermarkets to blame Romanian traffic laws and dodgy practices in far-off parts of the EU.

“Horses have been banned from Romanian roads and millions of animals have been sent to the slaughterhouse,” said Jose Bove, a veteran campaigner for small farmers who is now vice-president of the European Parliament agriculture committee.

Besides, it could be donkey meat, in which case you would just feel like an ass.

Soylent Green is PeopleThe supermarkets demanded cheap meat products that they could sell at a profit. They got what they asked for. We weren’t supposed to ask how.

Puffles’ Bestest Buddy has more – a lot more – at Why HorseMeatGate Matters, including the reminder that our Conservative/LibDem coalition government had wanted to abolish the Food Standards Agency nearly three years ago.

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Filed under About Food, Supermarkets

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