Back in 2013, a series of grim scandals rocked Europe. Horsemeat (interestingly, one word) was smuggled into the mainstream meat supply and sold as ground beef. Though in most cases the horsemeat was mixed in with beef, in some instances what was supposed to be beef was pure horse. If you lived in France or Switzerland in 2013 and had any particularly game-y lasagna, my condolences.
But if you sell horsemeat to unsuspecting beefeaters, the authorities are going to come for you. This week, British investigators arrested three men who played a role in bringing horsemeat to market in 2012.
Two Brits and a Dane have been arrested on charges of fraud for mixing beef and horsemeat for sale to an unsuspecting public. They'll soon go to trial, and the charges come after an international investigation, suggesting the scale of the operation.
The 2013 scandal began when Irish authorities discovered traces of horse in frozen beef burgers. Soon, authorities across Europe were finding horse in their supposedly all-beef products. Horsemeat was even found in Ikea meatballs. The scope of the scandal, dubbed "Horsegate," involved a lot of horse, and at the time one expert estimated that 50,000 horses had mysteriously disappeared.
And when mystery meat enters the food supply, it's not just the obvious gross-out factor you have to worry about. Without being sure of the provenance of meat, there's no way of knowing what types of drugs or other ingredients might have unwittingly slipped onto store shelves.
The drug phenylbutazone, a veterinary drug commonly used in racing horses but banned in animals bred for food, was of particular concern. Similarly, in France, authorities tracked down criminals who were selling meat from horses that were once owned by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi and had been used as animal models in the development of vaccines for rabies and tetanus.
Tests of meat samples during Horsegate also found that beef sometimes contained traces of pork. For Muslims and Jews, that's yet another problem.
Attitudes toward horsemeat consumption vary across Europe. In Belgium, Denmark, France, and Germany, for example, eating horse isn't as taboo as it is in the United Kingdom. But attitudes vary within those countries, too, and, moreover, mystery meat is never fun. When you put a dead animal in your mouth, you always want to know what kind.