Well That’s a Horse of a Different Color!

IKEA has recently recalled 1,670 pounds of their (previously) delicious little meatballs from 14 European Countries due to the fact that they contained horse meat.  The discovery furthered the already alarming trend of finding horse meat mixed with beef that has been spreading its way through Europe starting in Ireland.  While no horse meat has been detected in the United States as of today, it raises the problem of mislabeled food products potentially entering the U.S. market.

There are no known side-effects of eating our domestic equine friends, however the majority of consumers would not eat the mixed meat if they were aware of its contents.  While the demand for horse meat has grown with respect to some growing demographics in the U.S., several states, including California, Illinois, and New Jersey prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption.  Horse meat is widely eaten around the world and is “high in protein, low in fat and has a whole lot of omega 3s.”  The main legal issues, however, are what implications there can be for mislabeling food products that are sold and consumed in other countries.

IKEA, if it had known about the horse meat, was smart enough to halt importation of the tainted meat as soon as they were notified, however what can be said for the other countries?  While the U.S. has strict inspection processes that can detect the presence of horse meat, other countries likely do not have the same resources.  What can be done to ensure that distributors are correctly labeling their products and inform consumers about what they are eating?  Where several cultures may look upon horse meat as a delicacy, others may abhor the idea of eating it and the recent outbreak of mixed meats has created several interesting problems for the international food industry.

What procedures can be implemented to ensure the integrity of meat products?  What legal consequences are there for companies that intentionally add horsemeat to their products without labeling them?

Source: NY Times

Picture: Yahoo News

One comment

  1. It seems to me that the nature of the problem is labeling. As you recognize, the U.S. Customs Agency has some of the most advanced detection mechanisms in the world, but I am skeptical as to what extent they are able to detect horse meat at the border. I think that in order to prevent horse meat from being introduced (if it has not already been) to the U.S. market, the U.S. and its partners have to investigate abroad to find out who is mixing the meat.

    One of the problems in international trade is that any given label is not necessarily indicative of the actual country of origin. What I mean is that if a product is shipped to and undergoes a “substantial transformation” in a subsequent country, then that second country can claim that the product originated there. My concern, therefore, is that this meat is being mixed and packaged in one country that is perhaps less trustworthy trade-wise, and then being repackaged in a second, trusted country where it is then shipped to the U.S. If this is the case, then this will take some serious investigation to see who is responsible. Of course, this is assuming that the horse meat has already hit the market.

    In Europe, the problem is probably more acute because of the free trade that the several EU partners enjoy. Free trade agreements not only make it more profitable for trading nations to do business with one another, but it often makes border patrol of goods coming from free trade partners more lax.

    As far as remedies go, I would imaging that trade sanctions or private breach of contract suits will be the most common and desirable courses of action.

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