The Magazine

Horsefeathers

Feb 25, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 23
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Last month the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found that 37 percent of the hamburger products it had tested—all of which were labeled 100 percent beef—contained horse DNA. The scandal widened: The frozen food company Findus, which supplies stores in the U.K., France, Sweden, and other countries, had sold frozen lasagna—again, marked as beef—that contained up to 100 percent horse meat.

A furious effort ensued to find which abattoir had been horsing around, if you will. But it proved remarkably difficult to track down the culprit. Why? As the Global Post reported:

The horsemeat found in frozen “beef” lasagne sold in Britain by the Swedish company Findus reportedly -originated from Romanian -slaughterhouses that sold it to a Cypriot-registered -company with links to the British Virgin Islands, run by a Dutchman operating out of Belgium. It then passed through two French companies before the Swedes bought it from a factory in Luxembourg.

So on one level, this is a story about the amazing complexity of global supply chains, with a half-dozen companies spanning a continent involved in the production of something as quotidian as frozen lasagna.

On another level, it’s a cultural mystery story: Why have the British and Irish reacted so violently, when the French have been happily gobbling horsemeat for ages? The Scrapbook confesses to having eaten cheval—knowingly!—in Paris, and finding it to be quite similar to good old-fashioned ground beef. So, what’s the, er, beef with eating horse? Well, for one, there’s the fraud issue. And two, there’s the simple squeamishness surrounding eating something .  .  . different. A billion Indians, after all, are probably repelled at the thought of tucking into a steak. Maybe the cultural relativists have a point. Or at least the culinary relativists do.

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