Science - February 15, 2007

‘Horsemeat figures used to shock people’

Last week shock-horror stories reached the national and international media that one-third of all Dutch meat snacks contain horsemeat. The source of the commotion was a survey by Wageningen University students for Wakker Dier, an activist group against factory farming. The students themselves don’t really understand what all the fuss is about: ‘I’d rather eat horsemeat than other sorts of meat.’

According to Wakker Dier, many people regard horses as household pets and therefore do not want to eat their meat. Nevertheless people sometimes consume horsemeat unknowingly in deep-fried snacks. In search of clarity, Wakker Dier commissioned a group of Wageningen students to research the matter. They examined the ingredients listed on the packaging of 286 types of meat snacks. Horsemeat was listed as an ingredient in 32 percent of the snacks.

Wakker Dier published the figures last week and now has a test on its website, ‘check je snack’, where you can check out which brands to avoid if you don’t want to eat horse.

Raymond Gemen, who is studying Nutrition and Health, carried out the research with three other students and is not shocked by the results. ‘On the contrary, I was reassured,’ he says. ‘The Dutch consumption of horsemeat has gone down. Fifteen years ago we ate 1.4 kilos per person each year, and now that figure is only 0.6 kilos. Wakker Dier is using our figures to shock people a bit. We don’t see the problem ourselves. Horses generally have a better life than pigs and cattle, and their meat is healthier. It is much leaner and it contains lots of iron. The other students agree with me.’

Wakker Dier says it is not against eating horsemeat on principle. ‘What we want is honest information about where the meat comes from,’ says spokeswoman Xandra Assenbergs. ‘It’s part of our task to educate the public on these matters and to make things clear for the consumer. We’d been receiving questions on horsemeat for years, and were not able to give good answers. That’s why we commissioned the research.’