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Consumers awareness of meat increases

Consumers are becoming increasingly wary as they prepare to purchase imported fresh meat products due to the horsemeat scandal that swept Europe in early January. Although the contamination has not reached the U.S., the industry worries that consumers may be still concerned that what they believe to be 100 percent beef may actually contain horsemeat. 

Beginnings

The scandal began in January when the Food Safety Authority (FSA) of Ireland found that 10 out of 27 burger products tested contained horse DNA. One sample from Britain’s largest grocery chain, Tesco, contained roughly 29 percent horsemeat. 

Tesco is not the only company that has detected this contamination. Nestle is one of the latest corporations to find traces in their beef products.

The spokesman for Nestle said that the levels of horse DNA were very low but above one percent.  Items that were contaminated include seven Jenny Craig products and two Gerber baby food products. 

“There is no food safety issue, but the mislabeling of products means they fail to meet the very high standards consumers expect from us,” said a statement from Nestle.

Bute concerns

Britain’s FSA says that the presence of horsemeat “is not a risk in itself,” but has ordered companies that have detected it, such as Findus, to test for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, more commonly known as “bute.”

Bute has not been allowed entrance into the food chain because it, in rare cases, can cause aplastic anemia in humans. This is a condition that occurs when the body stops producing enough new blood cells, leaving the person feeling fatigued and at a higher risk for infections and uncontrolled bleeding. Treatment for the afflicted includes medications, blood transfusions or a stem cell transport, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

Britain’s chief medical officer said, “It is understandable that people will be concerned, but it is important to emphasize that, even if bute is found to be present at low levels, there is a very low risk indeed that it would cause any harm to health.”

This anti-inflammatory was banned from use in humans after it was found that one person in 30,000 suffered a serious side effect such as aplastic anemia. FSA claims that the levels of bute reported in the previous testing of the contaminated meet would have to have been multiplied by 1,000-fold to be at the same level that used to be given to humans. 

Entering markets

Although some countries allow the consumption of horsemeat, it was not intended to enter the mislabeled beef products. Officials are currently searching to find where the food security was breached. 

Britain’s FSA says that the evidence that it has compiled “points to either gross negligence or deliberate contamination in the food chain.” Suppliers in Ireland and France are believed to be linked to some of the prominent contaminated products. 

The percent of products contaminated is ranging between one percent in the Netherlands and 13 percent of total products tested in France. Nothing definitive has been found yet about the source, but the mislabeling has affected consumers in at least 12 European countries.

Prevention in the U.S.

The USDA has stepped up security measures to ensure that these mislabeled products do not enter the U.S. 

According to the National Association of Farm Broadcasters News Service, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that it will be conducting species sampling and testing on imported raw ground-beef and veal to ensure that the shipments do not contain horsemeat. This sampling was put in place to ensure that the products being imported do not contain anything that is not listed on the label. 

FSIS does not allow imports of horsemeat from other countries into the U.S. for human consumption. 

FSIS Spokeswoman Cathy Cochran says that the FSIS is confident that the inspection system at all ports of entry ensures the safety of the products that come into the county. However, FSIS is still increasing testing to enhance the current safeguards and prevent fraudulently labeled products from entering the U.S.

Kelsey Tramp is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@wylr.net.