Burger King Admits To Horse Meat: Can You Get Sick From The Food? [REPORT]

By IScience Times Staff Reporter on February 1, 2013 9:04 PM EST

Burger King
Fast-food fans are panicked after learning that traces of horse DNA have been found in Burger Kings in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark. Now the question is: How safe is it to eat at the burger chain? (Photo: Creative Commons)

Alarming fast-food fans, Burger King has admitted to using horse meat, only a few weeks after horse and pig DNA were found in some of Ireland's most-popular supermarkets.

The tainted meat has been linked to Silvercrest Foods facility, which distributed meat to restaurants in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark. 

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Though there were allegedly only "very small trace levels of equine DNA," the company will cut ties with Ireland-based food processor Silvercrest Foods, the company that also sold tainted meat to the grocery chain Tesco.

After collecting DNA evidence, Burger King found that there was no tainted meat coming from its other European beef suppliers.

"As we confirmed on 23rd of January, we transitioned all of our restaurants in the UK, Ireland and Denmark to other [Burger King] approved suppliers from Germany and Italy as a precaution," Burger King said in a statement.

"These suppliers have provided DNA evidence to confirm their products are free of equine DNA. These are the product being sold in our restaurants today. Our independent DNA tests results on product taken from [Burger King] restaurants were negative for any equine DNA. However, four samples recently taken from the Silvercrest plant have shown the presence of very small trace levels of equine DNA. This product was never sold to our restaurants."

"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 two weeks ago when news first surfaced of tainted meat.

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

Though horse-meat slaughter and consumption is legal in some countries -- including China, Mexico, Russia and Italy -- taboos have remained. The long-held disgust for horse meat is mostly because contaminated horse meat 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 horse-meat 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 horse-meat burgers has reignited a debate that started in Nov. 2011 when the United States lifted a ban on the slaughter and butchering of horses.

"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-horse-meat 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.

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