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Retail Trends

A Horse Of A Different Color

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What’s the world coming to when you can’t sell Swedish meatballs in Sweden?

That’s the dilemma facing IKEA, seemingly the least likely retailer to be victimized by the horsemeat scandal plaguing Europe. The retailer stopped selling its meatballs in Sweden after Czech authorities found horsemeat in frozen meatballs labeled beef and pork.

The controversy began in Ireland in January where investigators discovered Romanian horsemeat in products labeled beef burgers, resulting in the removal of millions of products from supermarket shelves and processing facilities.

DNA tests by Tesco have discovered as much as 60 percent horsemeat in its Tesco-brand Spaghetti Bolognese produced in a French factory owned by Comigel and distributed by Swedish company Findus. Additionally, several French and Dutch supermarkets withdrew frozen beef lasagna and ready-to-eat meals sourced from the company.

Nestle, one of the world’s largest food companies, has withdrawn beef pasta meals in Italy, Spain and France after finding horse DNA, and nearly every German grocer has recalled all processed beef products. Germany’s Ministry of Consumer Protection, which in the past opposed mandatory country of origin labeling, is looking at establishing an early warning system for the entire meat supply chain.

The brouhaha is not so much a matter of food safety as it is fraud. It is not illegal to sell horsemeat — in many countries the product is more of a social taboo than a dietary one. In fact, as London’s Financial Times columnist John Gapper pointed out, this “could be a rare case of adulteration that makes food healthier,” since horsemeat is leaner than low-quality beef and has higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids.

The problem is that racehorses, a source of the meat, are sometimes treated with a painkiller called phenylbutazone, once prescribed by doctors for severe arthritis but which can produce severe side effects and has been banned in Britain and the United States.