From historic Irish legends to modern horse racing enthusiasts, Ireland has a long love of all things equine. That is, unless it’s served on a dinner plate — which may explain the outrage that has spread across the country in recent days in the wake of news that many Irish beef burgers contain traces of horse meat.
Following a recent investigation into the authenticity of local beef products, including burgers, beef meal and salami, the Food Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has released a statement revealing the presence of horse and pig meat in a high proportion of the products tested. Out of 27 beef burgers that were analyzed, 10 (37%) tested positive for horse DNA and 23 (85%) tested positive for pig DNA. Traces of horse meat were also found in imported raw ingredients, so it is believed that the offending meat may have originated in The Netherlands and Spain.
The chief executive of the FSAI, Alan Reilly, has said that he is working with the meat processing plants and the Department of Agriculture to find out how horse meat found its way into the Irish produce, writes the Irish Times. Reilly emphasized that the eating of horse meat is not part of the Irish culture, and sympathized with “religious groups or people who abstain from eating pig meat.”
The Irish department of health has reacted to the news with embarrassment, particularly given the high standards of food quality on which the country prides itself. “This has been uncovered because of how thorough we are in testing food,” the agriculture minister Simon Coveney told the Independent. But he was quick to remind consumers that “this is not a food health scare, there is no risk to human health.”
Nevertheless, media interest in the investigation has spread from Ireland across the sea to Great Britain, where Irish produced beef is consumed, with the BBC particularly interested in why the Brits are so squeamish about eating horse meat. Horse-eating, or hippophagy, has been part of European culture since the 19th century, and continues to be part of the cuisine in countries including France and Belgium.
Like the Irish, perhaps the Brits feel reluctant to consume the flesh of a companion who has supported humans as a source of labor, transportation and friendship. Then again, as the BBC points out, maybe it’s just an excuse to put down the French. As food historian Dr Annie Gray explained to the BBC , “Beef has long been symbolic of Englishness and therefore anything we can do or say to put British beef on a pedestal is usually done – ergo the thought that the French eat horse while we eat good beef becomes a chauvinistic way of asserting national identity.”
Back in Ireland, a full investigation into the presence of horse meat is underway, while the Minister for Agriculture has been called upon to reassure consumers that these meat traces are not widespread practice in the industry, writes the Irish Times.