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All the Tasty Horses?

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The editors at Top Masters in Public Health Degrees decided to research the topic of:

All the Tasty Horses?

The European horse meat scandal - and America's complicated legal policy

As the controversy over unlabeled horse meat reaching grocery stores and restaurants in Europe widens, let's explore how the scandal has unfolded and why it's so hard to find horse on a menu in the United States.

Jan. 16

- Ireland's Food Safety Authority announces burgers labeled as beef were found with traces of equine DNA, including one that was 29% horse, in supplies provided by ABP Food Group to supermarkets in Ireland and England. Ten million burgers are taken off the shelves as a result.

Jan. 23

- Burger King switches suppliers for its stores in England and Ireland as a precautionary measure, saying no meat with any traces of horse was ever sold to consumers.

Jan. 30

- Authorities in Ireland say filler product made from horse meat came from Poland.

Feb. 4

- Production at a second supplier in Ireland, Rangeland Foods in County Monaghan, is suspended after a test revealed 75% equine DNA in raw meat. To this point, the first supplier, ABP Food Group is estimated to have lost about $58 million in contracts as a result of the scandal. Irish agriculture officials call in police to aid their investigation, which they determine could include possible criminal fraud charges.

Feb. 5

- Frozen meat at Freeza Meats in Northern Ireland is revealed to contain 80% horse meat.

Feb. 6

- Food stores withdraw frozen spaghetti and lasagna meals produces by French supplier Comigel.

Feb. 7

- Officials reveal a second case of "gross contamination" after some Comigel beef lasagnas were found to contain up to 100% horse meat.
- Officials believe "criminal activity" is to blame and orders food companies to test their beef products.

Feb. 8

- Aldi UK confirms two ready-to-eat products were found to contain up to 100% horse meat.

Feb. 11

- Supermarket chain Tesco drops a supplier after discovering a range of spaghetti Bolognese meals contained more than 60% horse meat.

Feb. 12

- As part of their widening investigation, Ireland's FSA investigators visit slaughterhouses in England and Wales.

Feb. 13

- European Union agriculture officials agree to random DNA testing of processed meat products and agree to test for "bute," a powerful anti-inflammatory drug given to horses. It's believed the drug could pose a health risk to humans if they consumed horse meat tainted with the drug.

Feb. 14

- Three men are arrested in England after investigators discovered a significant amount of horse meat containing bute believed to have been entering the food chain for a long period.

Feb. 19

- Nestle, the world's largest food company, reveals horse DNA was found in some of its beef pasta meals provided by an outside supplier and removes products from shelves in Italy and Spain.

Feb. 20

- A day after revealing horse DNA was found in some of its product, Nestle says an internal investigation has found its UK products are safe from horse meat contamination.

Feb. 22

- Frozen foods giant Birds Eye recalls ready-to-eat meals after 2% horse meat is found in a product supplied by a Belgium-based company. Birds Eye pulls all its beef products from Belgium, as well as removing three products from the UK and Ireland, in what it says is a precautionary measure.

Feb. 25

- Swedish furniture giant Ikea becomes the latest company ensnared in the widening scandal, as it withdraws its famous meatballs from stores across Europe after authorities in the Czech Republic detect horse DNA in packages of the food. Meatballs from the same batch had been sent from a Swedish supplier to 12 other European countries - Slovakia, Hungary, France, Britain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland - and were pulled off the shelves in all of them.

March 1

- Officials report horse meat had been found in beef products at Taco Bell restaurants in Britain, marking the first time it has been discovered on sale at a restaurant in Britain.

Is Horse Meat Dangerous?

- The risk of eating horse meat is not in the meat itself but in a veterinary drug often found in thoroughbred racehorses, phenylbutazone, commonly known as "bute." Bute is not allowed in the human food chain because it is a carcinogen and can cause seizures, ulcers, aplastic anemia and severe organ damage.

How Horses Enter the Food Chain

- There are no horse slaughterhouses in the U.S., but the country is still the fourth-largest supplier of horse meat in the world, with tens of thousands of horses being sent to Canada or Mexico for slaughter. From there, most of the meat goes to Europe.

In 2011, about 140,000 horses from the U.S. were consumed as food abroad.

Metric tons of horse meat produced in 2010

- China 170,848
- Kazakhstan 73,088
- Mexico 69,130
- USA 68,444
- Russian Federation 52,898

Horse meat can come legally from any type of equine, whether sold legitimately by the owner or stolen from the owner

- Retired show or carriage horses
- Ponies
- Retired racehorses
- Pets
- Up to $1,000
- Profit a horse thief can make selling a horse to a slaughterhouse
- Anti-slaughter advocates report up to 90% of horses killed for meat are young and healthy.

Why Don't Americans Eat Horse?

- For years, the U.S. did not fund inspections of horse meat, meaning there was no way legally for horse to be slaughtered and sold to consumers. That ban was lifted in 2011, but to date there are still no protocols in place for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin equine inspections, though that may soon change.
- The USDA is likely to approve a horse slaughtering plant in New Mexico in the next two months, which would allow equine meat suitable for human consumption to be produced in the U.S.
- But will there be an appetite for horse meat here?
- 7 in 10 Americans believe that horses are part of America's culture and should not be slaughtered

"We have a 250-year relationship in the United States with horses, and eating them has never been a part of the equation. It would be quite a turn in the road to view animals who helped us settle the country as an appetizer or main course."

- - Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States
- However distasteful to some Americans, the return of horse meat production in the U.S. could help boost the economy.
- $65 million: Domestic profit of the horsemeat industry before the ban in 2007