Coffee House

Owen Paterson worried by risks of Mexican horsemeat in British food

13 February 2013

4:43 PM

13 February 2013

4:43 PM

The horsemeat scandal illustrates just how much of our daily government now takes place in Brussels. Owen Paterson is heading there today, for any real action on this crisis will have to be taken at a European level. One of those involved in the government’s response to this crisis tells me the problem is that once products are inside the European single market they are very few checks on them. This figure called it, ‘a faith based system that isn’t working’.

This is particularly alarming because the horsemeat that is turning up in British food could not be from here or even Romania but the US via Mexico. In 2007, court judgments led to the last equine abattoirs in the US shutting down. But some American horses were still killed for food. They just went down Mexico way to die. Imports of horse meat from Mexico to the EU surged from 1.3 million kg in 2006 to 4.3 million kg in 2007, peaking at 7.4 million kg in 2010. In 2012, their value is estimated to have been around €20 million.


The fear — and Paterson has raised this with the food industry at both his summits with them — is that American horses, many of which have been drugged throughout their lives, are going to Mexico, being slaughtered and then exported to the EU. Once through customs and inside the single market, some of this meat is being passed off as beef.

If this is the source of the horse meat that is turning up in food here, then that is far more worrying than it being, say, Romanian donkey or British cart horse. For these American horses are far more likely to have been given large amounts of drugs.

James Forsyth explores the horsemeat scandal further in his politics column this week. You can read The Spectator in print and online from tomorrow. Click here to subscribe.

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Show comments
  • bengeo

    “Hope the horsemeat from Canada hasn’t infiltrated the foodchain in Britain and Europe.

    In Canada, horses are given more than Bute. They get vaccinated for rabies, West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, tetnus, strangles, plus other drugs for a variety of diseases, all of which may stay concentrated in their bodies.

    The kill buyers at horse auctions are not too fussy about the medical histories. The horses, many sick and old, get packed into cattle trucks and shipped great distances to the abattoirs, without food or water.

    The production of horsemeat involves unmentionable suffering and cruelty, another reason not to eat it.”


    “Each year, more than 100,000 healthy horses in the United States are shipped across our borders to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada.

    These animals suffer from inhumane long-distance transport and are subjected to cruel and clumsy slaughter practices. Consuming meat from American horses is also a health risk: Our horses are raised as companions, athletes or work horses, so they have been routinely given drugs that can render their meat contaminated.

    However, American horsemeat is still sold in Europe. In the last few weeks, European officials and consumer groups have discovered beef burgers for sale in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Spain that contained horse DNA though it was not labeled as such.

    This isn’t an animal rights issue. It is one of public safety.”


    “BELGIUM, Brussels—A survey conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Humane Society International shows that most European consumers want a ban on imports of horsemeat from countries whose food safety regulations do not meet European Union standards.

    The poll also indicates a lack of consumer awareness about the origins of horsemeat. Most people across the three countries polled mistakenly assumed that horsemeat sold in their country originates either locally or from elsewhere in Europe. In fact, Europe imports a significant proportion of horsemeat sold here from abroad, importing 27,847,700 kg of horsemeat from third countries in 2011 alone. Vast quantities of horsemeat come from non-European countries, including Canada and Mexico, where most of the horses come from the United States. In the US, horses are not raised for human consumption and are therefore commonly given drugs and medications not intended for the food supply.


    “In Canada, Natural Valley Farms in Neudorf, Saskatchewan, was shut down by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 2009 for food safety concerns. NVF went into receivership on September 22, 2008, yet horses continued to be slaughtered at the facility by Velda Group, an international Belgian-based company. Velda was infamous in Illinois for numerous environmental charges and convictions at their Cavel International horse slaughter plant that closed business in September 2007.”


    Before 2007 the USA slaughtered horses for dog meat. The increased incidence of cancer in dogs led to a ban in it’s use.


    Almost all the horse meat processed in Canada by the six licensed horse abattoirs is exported.


    Quantity, Kg
    Japan – 2,492,889
    France – 2,344,079
    Switzerland – 947,337
    Mexico – 904,337
    Italy – 370,510
    Czech Republic – 96,952
    Finland – 48,354
    South Africa – 23,618
    United States – 18,606
    Belgium – 15,300
    Swaziland – 12,897
    Jamaica – 7,664

  • evad666

    The EU want a trade agreement with the US. Now is this so they can get at US beef?
    Now remember all the unsubstantiated rumour about bioweapons testing in Utah and the appearance of Cattle Mutilations and infectious spongiform ecepholopolies.

  • evad666

    Worried about Mexican Horsemeat? Just add more Chilli.

  • alabenn

    FFS no one has died from this minor crisis, this is like Leveson , in that this is a criminal matter.
    All this shouting in the Media is hot air as no one in this country has the power to sort it out, try Brussels
    There must be something even more drastically wrong in the NHS for this can of crap to shove it out the way.

    • Tom Tom

      You KNOW that noone has died or will die ? How did you perform the autopsies ?

    • Olaf

      Might need to look back for anyone having a random unexpected allergic reaction to ‘beef’ products. Some people are seriously allergic to horse proteins. A more significant risk than the media’s ‘bute’ scaremongering.

  • Framer

    Hardly surprising given that we import eggs and chicken meat in enormous proportions from Thailand and Brazil where the welfare standards in no way match ours or even the EU’s rarely observed ones, the UK excepted.
    And we import masses of pig meat from EU countries who simply refuse to put the EU’s own welfare standards (most recently on sow stalls) in place.
    So we force our farmers out of business while ensuring animals’ welfare is diminished, as less and less product comes from the UK.
    Now there is something for the Labour Party and its animal rights supporters and funders to concentrate on.
    Dream on.

    • ButcombeMan

      Labour would hardly wish to concentrate on that system.

      That system grew and prospered, under Blair & Brown.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Does Mr P know that there is now about 4 years worth of testing sitting in EU accredited labs at this moment?

  • Hexhamgeezer

    So where is this US meat being imported? Who is doing the species and drug testing? Who is labelling it?

  • Russell

    Paterson is an idiot exemplified and more stupid even than Prescott. What a vote loser. How on earth did this man get made a Minister?

    • ButcombeMan

      He is the victim of the officials who feed him responses. He really may be as stupid as he appears on TV.

      He may not BE that stupid. Just another VICTIM of an inherited mess.

      This food situation will run and run and even then, run again.

      The meat trade has always been one of the most corrupt in Britain.

      What next?


      All those “cod” fish fingers?

      We have heard not much about sausages, about pies, about sausage rolls and pasties. (Elephant leg Kebab has always been a “given”)..

      Would you be worried if you were running Greggs? Would you be firing off directions (checking) to your underlings? (Not I rush to say, that there is anything about Greggs that I know-just they do sell a lot of vaguley meaty product).

      I would probably rather target the similar goods -sold in petrol stations.

      This supply, origin & supply scandal, was always optional.

      If Morrisons and M&S could stay out of it , so could the others.

      It was careless-and i really mean CARE less.

      They thoroughly deserve the reputational damage they have all been given.

      • Hexhamgeezer

        I think Greggs will turn out on the side of the angels in this mess. Along with the likes of Morrisons who have exteremely short supply chains and/or are vertically integrated, Greggs are very careful with their procurement.

        The problem is, as you say, the meat trade has always been very corrupt and needs to be kept on a short lead (not in ALL cases of course).

        Findus had a big factory in Newcastle producing ready meals which burnt down in 2009 and they didn’t reopen the site. The stuff was contracted out to Comigel and look where that got them – ha-bl00dy-ha.

        • Tom Tom

          Findus is owned by JP Morgan

        • ButcombeMan

          I agree, Greggs has a good reputation, a daughter worked there when at Uni. I know they were taking a lot of care then.

          But even the mighty can fall.

          Waitrose has been using an ABP plant apparently and in consequence has withdrawn suspect meatballs.

          My wider point stands, the whole of the processed meat industry is highly suspect, has been for years. What surprises me is that anyone, especially the Ministry, is surprised by recent events.

          I am sure there is much more news to come out, especially in foods that go into the catering industry and Cash & Carry trade.

          Eat better quality meat and eat less of it.

          • Hexhamgeezer

            Agreed, there is much more to come should the bods from the Ministry and FSA care to look.rather than grandstanding and proposing instant solutions (more forms anyone?)

            Catering would be a productive seam to mine but the big wins would (I think) be in school, hospital, and other public insitutions. There are some big (and honest) firms out there but there are questions to be asked on the resources devoted to monitoring sources and specifications/contract compliance. There are some companies who will monitor slaughter production and packing as often as twice a month but they are few and far between.

            The mighty can indeed fall but i suspect Greggs’ culture would have to degrade a long way before they would accept the sort of regime that Findus/Comigel/Spanghero/Agent/Agent/Agent/Packer/Slaughterer had going.

      • Tom Tom

        Samworth Bros. have their Ginsters containing what I wonder ? Morrisons does have its own abattoir uniquely and its own pie factory but still buys in trash from the Goodman Empire ABP. The real gem is that they all drink at the same poisoned well. Concentration of Supermarket Buying Power led to concentration in Food Production which is why there are so many giant food corporations like Nestle, Danone, Kraft, ABF, ABP, ConAgra, especially in processed meat

        • Hexhamgeezer

          Aye.Ireland’s ABP has some questions to answer. A massive company using 1 man and his dog agents to source some of their meat? Fishy.

  • Daniel Maris

    Paterson has been in post for many months now. He’s had plenty of opportunity to show he is on the consumers’ side on food inspection and consumer safety. He has done nothing at all until this crisis erupted. In fact he is attempting to get out of higher standard EU regulations on minced meat labelling.

    • Tom Tom

      He does what supermarket sponsors of parties require. Tesco used to buy whole tables at Labour COnferences and no doubt sponsors Tory events too

  • LB

    Cat DNA?

    Dog DNA?

    Rat DNA – almost certain

    Human DNA – again a racing certainty

    However, it all makes a nice distraction from the NHS killing people, 40,000 a year (BMJ)

    • Swiss Bob

      Yes, flogging horse meat as beef is far more serious than killing 40,000 people a year, especially when prosecutions are likely to lead to your political mates doing time.

      We have a continuity Brown Govt, and I never imagined I’d being saying anything like that.

      • Tom Tom

        Yes Gordon BRown is Osborne’s Role Model just as Blair is Camerons……it is Understudy Time

    • Russell

      Don’t mention the RAT. Just like don’t mention the war. BBC and SKY too scared to ask the question. Is meat being tested for rat dna.

    • evad666

      Rat would be described as EU chicken.

  • Boudicca_Icenii

    Saints be praised. Forsyth has finally woken up to the fact that our government is now in the EU and the puppet-adminstration in Westminster can do very little without the approval of the Kommissars and Eurocrats.
    What a shame he and the rest of the MSM didn’t pay more attention and object when successive British Governments were busily transferring our Sovereignty to Brussels without a mandate.
    They – just as much as the Quislings in LibLabCON – are responsible for the situation we now find ourselves in. Unable to govern ourselves; unable to take the steps necessary to repair our economy and unable to control the flood of welfare-claiming immigrants let alone the importation of horsemeat disguised as beef.

  • Tom Tom

    The best part about Mexican regulations is that they can serve US interests better. A Narco-State exports horsemeat wherever drugs are exported to keep sniffer dogs bemused. Then the Narco-Importers can get stoned and buy some of those lovely frozen 25kg blocks of cheap horsemeat packing to give a fuller flavour to prepared meals and caterers and restaurants around Europe and the USA. I bet those MRM-pasties and burgers are enriched by the galloping gourmet content.

    The meat industry is corrupt but rewarding for the commercially-astute.