Europe is still reeling from the horsemeat scandal that has now touched more than a dozen countries. Authorities in Ireland first discovered that popular prepackaged beef products, like lasagna, tested positive for horsemeat. The discovery has prompted product recalls and government investigations across Europe.
Although it can contain a potentially harmful drug, phenylbutazone, health experts believe that the horsemeat poses a low risk to consumers. Nonetheless, the horsemeat scandal has shaken consumer confidence and cast suspicion on the food industry.
Understandably, U.S. businesses and consumers are all asking the same question: could this happen here?
According to experts, the risk of unlabeled “mystery meat” in the United States is considerably lower, largely due to the laws we already have in place. From 2007 to 2011, federal regulations prohibited horse slaughter in this country, all but eliminating the industry. Moreover, under a law that took effect this year, horses that are exported to Canada and Mexico for processing must be officially identified and accompanied by interstate certificates of veterinary inspection.
In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also closely monitors meat production. Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, slaughter facilities cannot conduct slaughter operations if FSIS inspection personnel are not present and inspecting each carcass. In addition, only federally inspected and passed products can enter interstate commerce or be exported to foreign countries.
In addition, the European horsemeat scandal is also already prompting new policies and procedures. The FSIS recently announced a new requirement that importers hold shipments of ready-to-eat products containing meat and poultry until they are cleared for foodborne pathogens. The agency also plans to reexamine how beef is tested and how to improve beef slaughter operations.
Of course, that does not mean that the U.S. food industry and federal regulators cannot do more to protect the safety of our food supply. As this European scandal highlights, it is possible to game the system. As a result, U.S. businesses and the USDA will likely be watching the fallout from the European horsemeat scandal very carefully.
If you have any questions about the European horsemeat scandal or would like to discuss how it may impact your business, please contact me, Donald Scarinci, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work.