Horsemeat Found In Burgers: How Serious Is The Risk? [REPORT]

By IScience Times Staff Reporter on January 15, 2013 8:33 PM EST

Horses
After an Irish food safety watchdog group discovered the illegal use of horse meat in burgers, shoppers at the popular supermarket Tesco are extremely alarmed. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Fans of the huge Irish retailer Tesco have become alarmed today after finding out that they ate horsemeat burgers without knowing it.

An Irish food safety group said on Tuesday that it found traces of horse and pig DNA in some of the country's most-popular supermarkets, including the company Tesco.

"A mistake has been made here, it has been flagged by our systems as it should have been, and we will take the appropriate action to ensure it doesn't happen again," Ireland's Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney told state broadcaster RTE.

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"[It was] either falsely labeled, or somebody made a mistake, or somebody was behaving recklessly. That allowed some horsemeat product to come into the system that shouldn't have been here," he added.

Though horsemeat slaughter and consumption is legal in some countries -- including China, Mexico, Russia and Italy -- taboos have remained. The long-held disgust for horsemeat is mostly because contaminated horsemeat has been discovered far more often than contaminated beef or pork, in part due to the countries that are exporting the meat and horses have long been viewed as elegant companions.

But how dangerous is horsemeat consumption?

"The most common pharmacological concern when it comes to horse meat is an anti-inflammatory drug called phenylbutazone, or 'bute.' Whatever the exact lineup of drugs administered, many racehorses receive a steady dosage of bute,"  James McWilliams wrote in Slate in October. "For all its effectiveness in treating horse pain, however, bute, a carcinogen, is strongly linked with bone marrow and liver problems in humans."

"In fact," McWiliams continued, "the danger it poses is so acute that the FDA has banned its use in animals intended for human consumption because, according to one peer-reviewed study in Food and Chemical Toxicology, 'it causes serious and lethal idiosyncratic adverse effects in humans.'"

The UK-based company Tesco apologized in a statement.

"The presence of illegal meat in our products is extremely serious. Our customers have the right to expect that food they buy is produced to the highest standards ... We understand that many of our customers will be concerned by this news, and we apologize sincerely for any distress." 

Now, though, the discovery of contaminated horsemeat burgers has reignited a debate that started in Nov. 2011 when the United States lifted a ban on the slaughter and butchering of horses.

Critics were everywhere.

"If plants open up in Oklahoma or Nebraska, you'll see controversy, litigation, legislative action and basically a very inhospitable environment to operate," Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of The Humane Society of the United States, told the Huffington Post at the time. "Local opposition will emerge and you'll have tremendous controversy over slaughtering Trigger and Mr. Ed."

But pro-horsemeat activists believe that the income that could be produced is monumental. 

"I have personally probably five to 10 investors that I could call right now if I had a plant ready to go. If one plant came open in two weeks, I'd have enough money to fund it. I've got people who will put up $100,000," Dave Duquette, president of a nonprofit, pro-slaughter group United Horsemen, said.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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