IKEA Equina: when horse is the meat of the matter


First meatballs, then sausages, then let’s not eat cake

The first and only time I ate horse was at Café Henry Burger in Ottawa, in the mid-1990’s. I was the saucier on the line, and horse was the special that night, a filet from the tenderloin that I was going to sear and pan-roast.

I had to taste it, or I wouldn’t know how to sauce it. I’m rarely squeamish about food, but this really got me. I tasted it anyway .

It was lighter than beef, sweet, lovely and jewel-coloured, and thanks to the recent news — horse DNA turning up in frozen beef products around the world —  all those conflicted feelings about eating horse are swirling around today.

Around the world following horse

The wave of findings started in the UK, where one beef product was found to be 25 per cent horse meat. Spain found horse DNA in a frozen pasta product that was supposed to be stuffed with beef. South African food inspectors found beef products with “unlabeled” donkey, goat and water buffalo.

IKEA’s part of this global story came from a Czech food inspector who found horse DNA in IKEA’s famous Swedish meatballs, which you can eat at the in-store café or buy frozen to cook and eat at home.

Luckily for IKEA, their traceability is in good shape. They sell in 23 countries, but their source for meatballs is singular – one Swedish plant — which is very likely scrambling to save itself from ruin.

Despite an apparent robustness, the food industry runs on very slim margins. Discounts and savings are sought everywhere. In some cases, products and ingredients come to manufacturing from multiple suppliers, who are themselves often supplied by sub-contractors. Labels get dropped here and there. The tuna scrapes story from last year is a perfect example of that.

Lean and lots of omega 3s

What’s important to note about this story is that there was nothing nutritionally wrong with that meat. It’s just that our culture shudders at the notion of horse slaughtered for food. In health terms, there’s nothing wrong with eating horse. Because it’s lean, and high in protein and omega3s, it packs a solid nutritional punch. Yet we can say essentially the same thing about a piece of organic beef tenderloin, but if we’re talking to a vegetarian, the information falls on deaf ears. They don’t care, and arguably 99 per cent of the western world won’t countenance the eating of horse, say what any of us will.

Special thanks to NPR for their story this week about Kazakhstan and horse meat, a cultural relationship rooted as far back as the 13th century.  And for teaching me about kazy, boiled horse sausage, an enduring specialty served to honoured guests and on special occasions.

Say what it is, mean what you say

In the end, the horse DNA story is about truth and legislation having consequences for those who want to skirt the truth. We may not want to eat horse, but if we’re buying beef, we’re entitled to expect beef.

Sad note: IKEA took another hit on the international food inspection front. Back in December, but only brought to light this week, Chinese custom officials destroyed a batch of 1,800 imported Swedish cakes found to contain high levels of coliform bacteria, which can be found in foil, vegetation, water, everyday human environments — as well as the fecal matter of humans and warm-blooded animals. Not a pretty picture.