A Horsemeat Scandal In Europe
Europe is reeling from a scandal that has affected more than 15 member countries and the dinner table of millions of its citizens. In mid-January, authorities in Ireland announced that they had found traces of horsemeat in beef burgers sold in British supermarkets.
Since then, a growing number of stores and companies across Europe have recalled beef ready meals, after tests found they contained horse DNA. The European Union has asked its member nations to conduct random tests on beef products.
Meanwhile, the contaminated meat has been traced to Romania. In much of Eastern Europe, horsemeat is a cheap alternative to beef. However, experts are concerned that this meat is not well regulated -- drugs which are used to treat horses and are harmful to humans can enter the food chain.
From Farm to Table
Have you observed the ingredients or thought about the source of different foods that make their way to your dinner plate each day? You may be surprised to learn that food travels great distances, and undergoes various processes on its journey from the farm to your table.
Your food would have made it through each of these stages -
- Packing house - where food is cleaned and packaged,
- Distributor - contracts with retailers to sell food in large quantities,
- Processor - cuts or bags the produce
- Retail distribution center - where the foods are sent out to various stores,
- Grocery store - where it is stacked for display.
Know What You Eat
It is true that the meat industry is extremely well regulated, with inspectors on the ground in slaughterhouses and in meat-packing companies. Inspectors monitor products during processing, handling, and packaging to ensure that they are safe and accurately labeled. They have the authority to shut plants down for food safety violations.
However, our every-day foods can sometimes be packed with things that are not supposed to be there - a practice that is now being called "food fraud". Adding something or replacing a perfectly safe ingredient with essentially something unknown, mislabeling, adulterating foods, are all examples of food fraud. Some well known cases include watering down milk with cane sugar, urea and water in India; mixing ground coffee with roasted barley, chicory powder and other ingredients; mixing sugar-beet syrup and maple syrup in honey, and mislabeling sea-food.
While food fraud can be dangerous, it raises another very important question about the security of our global food supply. This is especially so in ready-to-eat packaged foods, where it becomes difficult to isolate ingredients and test their authenticity.
While authorities tighten regulations to prevent such frauds, each of us can do our part too. At home, we should consider buying local produce – such as at farmers markets. As far as possible try to prepare meals with fresh ingredients rather than consume pre-packaged foods. The choices are after all in our hands.
Courtesy BBC, FAO, FDA