When a hamburger is a horseburger
By Mike Dwane
"I could eat a horse" is an expression many Irish people use when very, very hungry.
That's not because we like the taste but because the horse is by far the biggest animal you will find in the country. If elephants roamed the fields of Ireland, we might instead announce: "I'm so hungry I could eat an elephant."
In fact, the thought of eating horse meat horrifies most of us. We prefer to leave that to the French, the Italians, the Belgians and, of course, the Japanese. Or at least we thought so until a food scandal broke in January.
It turns out that if you have been buying frozen beef burgers in Irish or British supermarkets in recent years, the chances are you have also been eating horse meat without knowing it.
One "beef burger" sold by the British supermarket giant Tesco was found to be 29 percent horse meat. And this is offensive to many in both Ireland and the U.K.
Having grown up on a farm in the 1950s, my father remembers a time when the rural economy revolved around the horse. Tractors with 500-horsepower engines have long since replaced the noble steed, but Ireland's love affair with the horse endures — mostly at the track.
Irish people spend — and lose — more money on gambling than anyone else apart from the Australians, and much of this is on horse racing. The bloodstock industry here is strong, and Irish breeders, trainers and jockeys are among the best in the world. Quite a few Irish people work on the stud farms in Hokkaido.
Costly for its fans, the "sport of kings" is even more expensive for horse owners. And while Ireland went through its own bubble economy in the 1990s and 2000s, more and more people bought thoroughbred horses.
After the economy crashed in 2007, many of the new owners could no longer afford to keep the horses, which unfortunately ended up in the slaughterhouse.
One of the features of the current horse meat scandal is the lack of "horse passports" for some of these unlucky animals. But don't expect to see a horse in the queue behind you at the airport any time soon. A horse passport is a document with information about the horse and, importantly, its medical history.
Like Lance Armstrong, racehorses are given drugs to go faster, and such drugs should never end up in the human food chain.
This goes to the heart of the issue of traceability and whether we can accurately track — "from farm to fork" — what ends up on the dinner table.
ST: APRIL 5, 2013
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