Believe it or not, Europeans eat about 80,000 metric tons of horse meat every year. Unfortunately, for major brands like Burger King, Tesco, and Findus, Europeans have been consuming horse meat in their products that were labeled as beef, some containing as much as 100 percent horse meat.
But as the scandal is shedding light on how complex the industrial food system is from farm to table, curious Brits -- who generally do not eat horse meat (knowingly) -- are consuming the meat at high rates, Reuters reports:
Though none of Britain's supermarkets sell horsemeat, it is available through speciality meat suppliers and is on the menu of a few notable restaurants, such as L'escargot Bleu in Edinburgh. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has also heralded it.
Exotic Meats has seen sales of horsemeat burgers, steaks and mince increase ten-fold since the scandal erupted on January 15.
Another exotic meats supplier in Scotland, Berwickshire, has seen horse meat sales double in the last three weeks. Will the horse meat scandal start a new culinary trend in Britain?
Maybe. As Paul Rozin, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, explained to Amy Serafin in a fanscinating SmartPlanet feature (haven't read it? go here, I'll wait...) on incorporating insects into restaurant cuisine, eating foods that are culturally "gross" is mostly a social construction: “What is clear is that if we can induce someone to eat something disgusting a number of times, in a positive social context, there is a good chance they will come to like it.”
Who knows if horse meat will catch on in Britain when the scandal subsides, but it might push more people to eat locally-sourced foods. The problem with food suppliers having horse meat in their packaged "beef" products isn't necessarily a problem with horse meat. It's safe (though there is worry that some of the meat could be contaminated with an anti-inflammatory drug that's banned for animals used for human consumption) if manufactured properly. The problem for major food retailers now is: if consumers can't even be guaranteed that the "100 percent beef" product they're eating is actually beef, how can they be sure that unsafe ingredients aren't getting into the meat supply?
As Roger Kelsey, CEO of Britain's National Federation of Meat and Food Traders told Reuters: "Independent butchers are experiencing greater footfall at the present time. That's basically because in the eyes of the general public local traders are a better source of supply, due to their on site controls, because they tend to source product from local sources and they produce their own products on site."
Photo: Flickr/Eduardo Amorim