Coffee House

Horse meat in burgers might not be as harmless as you think

22 January 2013

This week’s discovery that some burgers sold in UK supermarkets contain up to 29 per cent horse meat was met with a combination of concerns about the labelling and sourcing of food, and jokes about the burgers’ ‘Shergar content’. But the fact that people are inadvertently eating horse meat isn’t the only worrying part of the finding; an additional concern is the provenance of the meat.

In many equine-consuming countries, horses are bred specifically for their meat, in the same way that livestock are in the UK. If you go to Auchan in Calais and pick up a horse steak from the ‘boucherie’ section, then your meat should be perfectly edible and, I’ve been informed, delicious. As a wimpy horse-lover, I’m more than happy to take their word for it. However, the horse meat in British burgers might not have such a reliable source. Initially, it was thought that the horse DNA found in the burgers could have been from ingredients imported from Europe, but over the weekend the company who produced the burgers confirmed that they hadn’t used imported meat in the affected burgers. Although the provenance of the meat is yet to be identified, the meat could be far less palatable than horse meat found on the continent.


In 2012 Defra withdrew funding from, and thereby forced the closure of, the National Equine Database, which held the passport details of every horse in the United Kingdom. A horse’s passport contains details of all drugs ever administered to that horse, some of which could leave the horse flesh unfit for human consumption. But the loss of the database has meant that it could now be possible for a horse to have two passports – one with the correct details of its medical history, and one which appears to be ‘clean’ when the horse is ready to be slaughtered.

Ireland has the same problem. In May 2012 the Sunday Times reported that Irish horses with forged passports were stopped en route to an English abattoir, with the article stating that ‘hundreds [of horses] are being sold to abattoirs using forged passports’.

The recession has had a devastating effect on the UK horse industry, with thousands of horses being abandoned as their owners can no longer afford to keep them. When a horse with a drug-free passport can be sold as meat for £300, is it any wonder that every loophole available is being taken advantage of?

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  • SirMortimerPosh

    I don’t care if people eat horses. I do care that I can rely on the label to tell me what I am buying. If you can’t trust the big supermarkets to purse vigilantly the quality of their products who can you trust? I know one or two frankly villainous farmers, one in particular, and I know that if he could turn a few bob in selling a TB infected horse to a dodgy meat trade buyer, he’d do it in a heartbeat. He already runs a dodgy, slaughtered around the back of the byre meat business.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    My neighbours love horse.

  • Olaf

    I think despite the jokes most people were aware that the main issue here was the lack of control over what was/is in the food chain. That issue remains even after the cuddy burgers have been taken off the shelves.

    • telemachus

      Message seems to be that the big supermarkets have no care for the poor and therefore do not care what goes into the value brands

  • LB

    Next stop, humans.

    Breeding database? Tick job done

    Medical database? 1/2 a tick, more money.

    Yep, were being treated like cattle.

    What next after the Liverpool Care Pathway? Ah yes, abattoirs in hospitals.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Ah, but which humans? The original idea was Irish babies but I’m not eating some horrible gypsy.

  • monty61

    Yes let’s have a bonfire of the regulations. You know it makes sense. Getting in the way of business and all that. Like the database of landlords (canned by Grant Shapps in his first flush as housing minister) that’s probably cost hundreds of millions in the loss of its potential to stamp out widespread tax dodging by the rentier class.

    What a bunch of muppets – claiming to be cutting when they aren’t (as the debt continues to climb), then cutting the wrong things.

    • Fergus Pickering

      But wat are the right things,my lover?

      • monty61

        The only things that will make any sensible difference is wholesale tax reform and entitlement cuts. I’d start with slashing housing benefit (in conjunction with rent controls) and a land value tax.

        • BorderlineFascist

          You’ve been reading the Moonbats column over at the Guardian haven’t you.

          • Dimoto

            Probably. The use of the term “the rentier class” is a bit of a give away.

        • eeore

          Replace income tax with a flat rate wealth tax, a rate of 1 or 2% would apparently generate the same as the current system.

      • Bellevue

        Council chief executives’ pay, for one. Quango chief executives’ pay, for another. Regional development quangos in total. Overseas development fund. MPs’ salaries. Subsidised canteens in the HoC.
        Thats just off the top of my head….. there must be countless other ones.

        • HooksLaw

          No regional development? Let it all stay in the south east?

          • Bellevue

            I dont quite see your point. Why do we need ANOTHER layer of government, with all its chief executives, civil servants etc.
            I believe in SMALLER government – so lets get rid of all these layers of buraucracy (sorry about the spelling!)…. and I am not talking about the south east.
            Let government get off our backs and let us get on with it.

          • eeore

            Most of the money stays in the south east anyway… though some of it goes to the richer areas of Cheshire.

  • Tom Tom

    They were Argentinian or Brazilian horses apparently which are much cheaper than beef and for which the Dutch supplier can be fined £880. The Irish supplier can be fined £2500 and Tesco could be fined £5000. So it is not as serious as some offences to adulterate food and defraud customers. The Government has cut the budget of the FSA which is now simply an adjunct of the Food Adulterators Federation….no doubt they will permit faeces into burgers to boost British E-Coli rating as No1 in Europe if they can get away with it. It is time the penalties related to turnover so Tesco paid more than the local greasy spoon – say a Day’s Revenue for example

    • Magnolia

      Those ponies are probably riddled with TB as well.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Here’s another reason to buy local, from people you know and trust.

      Pay a bit more, but perhaps gain certainty as to the provenance of your purchases.

      • Bellevue

        Another reason to buy local is to be certain that the meat is not halal…

        • HooksLaw

          Is it? Are you sure? Do you think your local farmer slaughters his own cattle and chickens? Do you worry as much about kosher foods?
          If you are so sensitive stick to pigs.

          I must say I am impressed with the intelligence of sheep that they can both listen to and understand the prayers said over them.

          • Bellevue

            Hooks Law….. why are you so angry?
            I live in France, and the local butchers raise their own meat and slaughter them. I keep chickens, so I know that no prayers are said over them.
            I dont quite understand your point of sheep listening to and understanding prayers said over them. Are you in favour or not in favour of halal meat?
            Lets try to be friends, shall we?

        • L0B0MaL


      • Guest


      • L0B0MaL

        Gullibility, is not exactly a virtue!

    • Fergus Pickering

      It’s part of an Argentinian plot to poison us all. I knew it. Exterminate! Exterminate!

    • Dimoto

      Do you have a particular vendetta against Tesco, or do you want massive fines for Walmart and Morrisons too ?

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