Allowing horse abattoirs to operate in the United States would greatly increase that risk of the meat finding its way into the domestic food chain, a senior animal welfare figure says.
Mark Markarian, who is chief program and policy officer for the Humane Society of the United States and president of The Fund for Animals, was commenting following the release of a study based in California that detected the illegal presence of horse-meat in two of 48 ground meat samples purchased from commercial outlets in the state.
One product was labeled as bison and listed its country of origin as Canada, while the other was labeled as lamb and listed its country of origin as the US. They had been sourced for the study from two different online specialty retailers.
The research team from Chapman University, reporting their findings in the journal Food Control, found that 10 of the 48 samples were mislabeled in various respects.
Markarian, writing in his blog, Animals and Politics, said the research appeared to be the first extensive study on meat species testing in the US since 1995, and the first serious look since Europe was rocked with a horse-meat scandal in 2013.
He said the latest findings amounted to one more reason for Congress to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act.
It was also, he said, a reason for Congress to maintain the current prohibition on spending federal tax dollars for horse slaughter plant inspections, which are required to allow the horse-meat export industry to operate on US soil.
“Some would-be horse slaughter profiteers are actively trying to open plants here in the US, which would make it much more difficult to avoid the type of commingling and food fraud—with horsemeat being passed off as beef that we saw with this study.
“Unintentional mislabeling may occur when several species are slaughtered in the same plants, using the same equipment, or in the same general vicinity. Or more unscrupulous producers could purposely mix in the meat of lower-cost species with that of higher-cost species to cut corners and increase profit.”
Americans did not want to eat horsemeat, he said.
Horses ended up being trucked hundreds or thousands of miles to meet a grisly end, he said. “And it’s generally reserved for the strongest, healthiest horses, since they would yield the most meat and the biggest profits.”
“There is currently no system in the US to track medications and veterinary treatments given to horses to ensure that their meat is safe for human consumption. It’s a free-for-all when this tainted and contaminated meat is dumped on unsuspecting consumers through their dinner plates and supermarket shelves, either overseas or here at home.
“The prior experience in Europe, and now the new study in the US, shows there is no foolproof way to be certain that horsemeat will not enter the human food chain, and allowing plants to operate here would greatly increase that risk.
“The predatory kill buyers who outbid families and rescue groups so they can scoop up healthy horses and sell their meat by the pound are not providing a ‘service’ to horses, but are creating threats to our equine companions and to food safety here and abroad.”