Horse and pig in beefburgers

Here in Britain there’s an outcry about evidence of horse meat and pig meat in beefburgers.

The evidence is DNA evidence. It was found using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) which I mentioned recently when quoting what Owen Paterson, our Environment Secretary, said about bovine tuberculosis. You can use PCR to detect particular DNA sequences. In the beefburgers, PCR detected horse sequences and pig sequences.

I think this is quite a good thing, in a way. Of course I don’t want to eat meat without knowing which species it’s from. Of course I don’t want people to be tricked into eating species they don’t want to eat. What’s good about this story is the way it’s got people thinking about where their food comes from. Ordinary people can be shockingly ignorant about that. I heard an anecdote about a teacher asking British schoolchildren where bacon comes from, and being told that it comes from Tesco’s. Understandable from a child’s perspective. Unhelpful from a farmer’s perspective.

Bulking out food with cheap ingredients isn’t new. Here’s what the Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (CABI) says about horse in burgers and the long tradition of adulterating food.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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4 Responses to Horse and pig in beefburgers

  1. Carol Hague says:

    Alas, most people have probably forgotten about it already – the attention span of the general public seems to be exceedingly short 😦

    And the media coverage largely seemed to be saying “Oh no, we’ve been tricked into eating cute horsies!” rather than “There’s stuff in our food that shouldn’t be there – maybe we should do something about that.”. Most discouraging 😦

    • argylesock says:

      Yes I’ve noticed that too. I suppose pictures of cute horsies are a simple way to sell newspapers.

      It wasn’t easy to find the FSA info – mostly the cute-horsies stuff and the bash-politicians stuff – but I’ve now found a blog written by the FSA Chief Executive. Added that to my ‘blogs to watch’ page here.

  2. Finn Holding says:

    I hope you’re right about folk thinking about where their food comes from, but I suspect they don’t really care as long as it’s cheap enough.

    • argylesock says:

      Often that’s true. But some people care very much about the species in their meat foods. For example, the Muslims I know are serious about Halal. And most British people I know are serious about never eating horse.

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