Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's just horse, of course, but don't lie about it

  • Print

It doesn't matter how you dice it, the discovery of horsemeat in European meat products raises some awkward questions for the global meat industry.

First of all, what's wrong with horsemeat? On the surface, nothing, except many of us would prefer not to eat it. The problem is, people weren't given the choice. In fact, they were lied to by food-industry labels that said one thing and delivered another. This issue is first and foremost about trust and truth in labelling, not food safety.

Or is it? Consumers are assured there is a system of documentation and auditing in place to ensure horses treated with the drug phenylbutazone, a commonly used anti-inflammatory known as bute, do not enter the food supply. But French authorities confirmed in media reports recently that meat from three horses contaminated with the drug slipped through their safety net.

After all, if processors are lying about the content of beef products, why should consumers presume horse traders will be honest about bute use, especially when it lowers the value of their animals?

One of the defences offered by companies whose products tested positive for horse DNA was that it was accidental, possibly a result of cross-contamination in factories that handle both horses and cattle.

The "oh-my-gosh-we've been duped" defence, and the "oh-maybe-it-was-an-accident" defence are equally alarming to the consumer.

If food companies don't know what they are buying, how can the consumer trust what they are making? And if processors can't get the bits of dead horse out of equipment before cutting up cattle, what else can't they clean up?

How long has this been going on anyway? The widespread nature of the contamination would suggest mixing species has been a common practice, and not just in Europe.

South African researchers recently found soya, donkey, goat, water buffalo and plant material in minced meat products, none of which was listed on the labels.

"Our study confirms that the mislabelling of processed meats is commonplace in South Africa and not only violates food-labelling regulations, but also poses economic, religious, ethical and health impacts," said study co-author Louw Hoffman in a Reuters report.

IKEA pulled its meatballs from stores in 21 countries -- North America, Australia and Japan excluded -- after finding horse DNA.

The animal industry routinely looks to science to support its credibility, but there is nothing scientific about the public's rejection of horsemeat. It's a lean source of protein that apparently tastes a lot like beef.

People's aversion to horsemeat is emotional, and emotion is a powerful force in the marketplace.

Sales of frozen meat dishes in Europe have reportedly collapsed in the wake of this scandal and short-term prospects for their recovery appear slim. British retail giant Tesco says it will now be sourcing its meat products more locally so it can keep a closer eye on suppliers.

Though the North American meat industry has not been implicated, you can bet someone is testing meat products here too to see what DNA they find, which is a scary thought.

The challenge of communicating with a public increasingly distanced from the farm has never been greater, the line between food animals and pets has never been more blurred, and the trust consumers have in the industrial food chain has never been shakier.

Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 204-792-4382 or by email:

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 9, 2013 B7

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets speak after 4-2 loss to Ducks in Game 1

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Aerial view of Portage and Main, The Esplanade Riel, Provencher Bridge over the Red River, The Canadian Museum for Human Rights and The Forks near the Assiniboine River, October 21st, 2011. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) CMHR
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local/Standup- BABY BISON. Fort Whyte Centre's newest mother gently nudges her 50 pound, female bull calf awake. Calf born yesterday. 25 now in herd. Four more calfs are expected over the next four weeks. It is the bison's second calf. June 7, 2002.

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google