Horse Meat Safety and Media Coverage

 Posted by on February 12, 2013  Horses
Feb 122013

I have owned and ridden horses since the age of 7 and because of my close association with horses I have no desire to eat horse meat. However, horses are animals and I accept that other people will want to eat horse meat. That is their decision. My decision is to not eat horse meat. I have sat at a table in a restaurant in Europe where English friends have tried horse meat and this was not a problem for me. I also enjoyed and laughed at the YouTube video of a pantomime horse mourning the loss of his parents in Tesco.

Is Horse Meat Safe?

Horse Passport - Not for Human Consumption

Horse Passport Medical Treatment – click to read text

As a horse owner I know that my horses passport states that he will not be used for human consumption. The Medical Treatment section of my horses passport is shown. Click to see a larger image of the passport that you can easily read. My horse is German hence it is in German and English.

This means that he can be treated with veterinary prescription drugs such as phenylbutazone, known as bute in the equine world. Bute is used to treat fevers and provide pain relief from sprains, overuse injuries, arthritis, laminitis and many other equine aches and pains. Bute also provides pain relief for humans but it has severe side effects on human blood. Any horse that has been treated with bute cannot, therefore be used for human consumption.

It is mandatory to have a passport for any horse that you own and horses cannot be transported without the passport except for short hacks. The passport is checked before the horse is slaughtered to confirm whether or not the horse can enter the human food chain.

The regulations and rules are therefore in place to ensure that horses that have been treated with veterinary drugs such as bute cannot enter the food chain. If I wanted to eat horse meat I would therefore be confident that any meat sold as horse meat would therefore be safe for human consumption.

However, since rules are being broken by substituting horse meat for beef is it possible to be absolutely sure that equine passport rules are not being broken and horses that have been treated with bute are entering the human food chain?

I believe that all the products that are being tested for horse meat are also being tested for bute and that no traces of bute have been found so far. This is obviously good news and I hope that this continues to be the case as more food tests are done this week.

Is the media coverage reasonable?

I listened the BBC Radio 4 World at One on Friday 8th February which was broadcast just after lasgne was discovered to contain horse meat. The programme stated that this was not a food safety issue and then did a voxpop where most shoppers were in the words of the reporter “ambivalent” and shoppers said they would not be throwing away food in their freezer or stop eating burgers.

I was therefore somewhat surprised when the interviewer stated that the horse meat issue is like the BSE problems which resulted in a beef boycott by other European countries. Horse meat is nothing like the BSE crisis which was a food safety issue. The interviewer then started to talk about a “consumer panic” where the vox pop showed there is actually ambivalence – the exact opposite to a panic. The President of NFU, Peter Kendall, was being interviewed and pointed out these inaccuracies to the the interviewer.

I expect balanced, accurate reporting from the BBC and the World at One, on this occasion, fell a long way short of this. If I wanted to read scaremongering sensationalist media coverage like this I would buy a newspaper.

I believe that the media coverage of the horse meat scandal is fair while it discusses inaccurate labelling and people, like myself, who don’t want to eat horse meat discovering that they may have eaten horse meat instead of beef. However, until there is evidence that horses are entering the food chain that have been treated with bute then it is irresponsible to try to whip up a panic. In fact the vox pop shows that the public are sensible and are actually aware but ambivalent.


Author: Chris Atkin

Chris Atkin is a videographer specialising in high quality equine videos which are typically used to sell your horse, promote your stallion or equine business or as a memento of a big competition. Videos can be uploaded to YouTube and adverts can also be produced for broadcast on specialist equine satellite TV channels.

Videos: YouTube channel or Google+