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Nestlé Recall and Mafia Connections: 5 Things You Should Know As Horse Meat Scandal Grows

The lessons extend far beyond meat products, and far beyond Europe.
 
 
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By now you’ve likely heard about the horse meat scandal that is rocking Europe. As far as food scandals go, this one is intriguing. Of course, this is not the first time we’ve learned that the meat we buy may not be everything we thought it was. Remember "pink slime"? The only good news here is that, so far, it doesn’t seem to be an imminent health threat, although it does raise some very alarming questions. 

As food politics expert Marion Nestle wrote, “The unfolding drama around Europe’s horsemeat scandal is a case study in food politics and the politics of cultural identity. Cultural identity? They (other people) eat horsemeat. We don’t.”

As Nestle explains, “Most Americans say they won’t eat horsemeat, are appalled by the very idea, and oppose raising horses for food, selling their meat, and slaughtering horses for any reason.” Horse meat, however, is eaten in numerous countries around the world like China, Japan and Indonesia, as well as countries in Europe, including France and Switzerland. 

It’s one thing to knowingly eat horse meat; it’s quite another to have it slipped into your food. This opens a pandora’s box of questions about the food we're buying. For starters: What else is in there (donkey and pig, and the list may grow)? What does it reveal about food safety and our complex food chain? Who is responsible for duping consumers, and how did they get away with it?

It turns out there is a lot we can learn from Europe’s surplus of horse burgers.

1. The Mighty Fall

The most recent news surfacing today is that Nestlé, one of the largest food companies in the world, has now been entangled in the scandal. The New York Times reports that Nestlé is pulling two products sold in Italy and Spain: Buitoni Beef Ravioli and Beef Tortellini, as well as Lasagnes à la Bolognaise Gourmandes sold to catering companies in France.  

Nestlé is just the latest in the list of Europe’s top food companies involved. The story first broke in the UK and Ireland when major supermarket chains Tesco and Aldi were found to be selling beef products that contained horse meat. It spun from there. AdAge reports, “Burger King binned thousands of Whoppers and Angus Burgers, which were sourced from the same Irish beef supplier, Silvercrest, and Findus ‘beef’ lasagna was found to contain 100% horse meat.” 

Silvercrest has been fingered, as well as Liffey Meats in Ireland and Dalepak in Yorkshire, according to Felicity Lawrence of the Guardian:

Silvercrest and Dalepak are both subsidiaries of ABP Food Group, one of the largest beef processors in Europe.”

... Huge blocks of frozen meat at a cold store in Northern Ireland, Freeza Foods, which had been quarantined by officials suspicious of its labelling and state of packaging, were found to contain 80% horse. 

Other top food companies were implicated when the scandal hit France (more on that soon), but the presence of large food companies at the heart of the issue is troubling. While bigger companies are often able to offer products cheaper than small and local stores, some may be questioning if the savings are really worth it if consumers are getting duped. A look at the complex supply chain raises even more fears.

Lawrence writes:

Supermarket buyers and big brands have been driving down prices, seeking special offers on meat products as consumers cut back on their spending in the face of recession. The squeeze on prices has come at a time when manufacturers' costs have been soaring. Beef prices have been at record highs as has the price of grain needed to feed cattle. The cost of energy, heavily used in industrial processing and to fuel centralised distribution chains, has also soared. There has been a mistmatch between the cost of real beef and what companies are prepared to pay.

 
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