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Expert Comment: Horse meat in UK supermarket meals

Horse Wednesday 13 February 2013

Dr Farzad Amirabdollahian, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition at Liverpool Hope, on the recent horse meat scandal.

On January 15th this year, when BBC revealed that horse meat was found in beef burgers on sale in UK and Ireland, several senior executives of Food Standard Agency (FSA) insisted that there is no food safety risk to public.

I agree that might not be an imminent food safety risk as there is no bacterial or viral infection associated with the horse meat found. With regard to the nutritional values, to my knowledge horse meat is a good source of protein and iron and can only be very slightly fattier than beef.

However, horse meat is obviously not part of our diet and the appearance of substantial amount of horse meat in our food is a big wakeup call for us regarding a significant and systematic fault in our food chain. This is further evident when pork DNA was recently found in halal prison meat and when Tesco revealed that the supermarket’s Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese also contains 60% horse meat.

While this has already been blamed on organised crime and international food fraud and there are probably several lessons to be learnt about the ethics of food production, the importance of publicising the supply chain and maybe the importance of empowering the local food supply, for me the scandal may be a reflection of some bigger political decisions that was made about organisations in charge of food and nutrition policies at national level.

In 2010, the FSA went through some major changes during which the agency lost part of its main nutritional responsibilities to the Departments of Health and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I think the recent events demonstrate how transferring part of the responsibilities of the FSA (which is an independent organisation) to governmental departments can have an adverse impact on the work of the agency.

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