European Horsemeat Scandal Expands to Asia

At least 750 metric tons (1.65 million pounds) of horsemeat have been surreptitiously substituted for beef in prepared meals shipped throughout Europe and even parts of Asia, according to French authorities.

French food manufacturer Spanghero has been named the prime suspect in the meat-switching scandal, which involves meat from at least 2,500 equids originating in Romania. Frozen prepared beef meals in Hong Kong were determined to contain horsemeat last week, extending the scandal to Asia, according to French news sources. Recalled products and seized raw meat have been discarded in mass quantities. Spanghero was allowed to reopen for limited business Wednesday (Feb. 20) under close scrutiny after a four-day shutdown by federal officials.

Romanian officials have claimed that the meat was correctly labeled upon export. However, a new investigation by veterinary and animal health authorities revealed Wednesday that 100 kg (220 pounds) of Romanian horsemeat had been incorrectly labeled as beef by a Bucharest trader, Reuters news service reported. The meat was not intended for export.

Romanian road laws, which limit cart horses' access to main roads, are not to blame, though, despite numerous media reports to the contrary, according to one Romanian veterinary professor. "The new road laws have not had important consequences on horse welfare, since local communities were obliged to build new, alternative roads for carts," said Gheorghe Solcan, PhD, professor and vice dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in Iasi, located in northwestern Romania.

"And circulation on main roads is restricted at some time intervals, but it is not totally forbidden," he added.

Suggestions in some media reports that Romanian horses are mistreated and then sent to slaughter are unfounded, he said.

"All horses in Romania must be identified with an electronic chip, so horses cannot be abandoned or abused without legal consequences for their owners," Solcan told The Horse.

However, drought could have led to an increase in slaughter numbers in 2012. "We had a very dry summer in 2012, and food became very expensive, so some poor owners may have preferred to have their horses slaughtered," he said.

Slaughter is preferable to other possible welfare outcomes such as starvation or lingering pain, according to the World Horse Welfare (WHW) organization in Norfolk, England. "Sad though it is, humane slaughter has a role in protecting horses from suffering, even if the concept of a horse being slaughtered may be something many people feel uncomfortable about," said Jamie Walker of WHW. "The costs of euthanasia and carcass disposal can be very high, and in some parts of the European Union, euthanasia carried out by veterinary surgeons is completely unavailable, meaning that for some owners slaughter is the only viable option at the end of their horse's life."

Even so, the WHW opposes the inhumane treatment of slaughter-bound animals, in particular long-distance transport of live animals, Walker said.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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