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Sunday, February 10, 2013

How prejudice affects our concerns

White slime. Yes, it's that yummy.
It has been somewhat interesting to observe how British society reacted to the revelation that a significant percentage of meat products currently in sale at retail stores contain a fair amount of horse meat. Unlike in Continental Europe, where horse meat is occasionally consumed - and is actually popular in some regions - the notion of eating horse meat is something of a taboo in the British Isles, so while someone in Italy would probably feel deceived if they purchased a horse-based product that had been advertised as pork, they wouldn't necessarily feel outraged because it contained horse meat.

Thus far, we've seen officials promising 'tougher testing' on meat products, begging citizens not to stop eating meat and dispelling concerns that the dreaded horse meat might have been served in schools. Is there any reason for all this hysteria? Aside from the fact that there is false advertising involved, not really - in theory, given that horses are not raised in factory farms, horse meat would probably be healthier than regular meat were it not for the possibility that it might be contaminated with a carcinogenic drug called phenylbutazone. However, that has nothing to do with the quality of the meat itself safety-wise and this particular fact hasn't even been featured prominently in any of the discussions related to the scandal, which leaves us with the explanation that all this drama was purely caused by the cultural norm that frowns upon the consumption of horse meat - or as the Food Safety Authority of Ireland adequately put in in the report (entitled "FSAI Survey Finds Horse DNA in Some Beef Burger Products", even though traces of pig DNA were also found) that opened Pandora's box:
In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger.
The irony of all this is that no one seems to be overly concerned about other contaminations that are quite common or are becoming so in the meat industry, such as faecal bacteria and MRSA [1, 2, 3]. And of course, no one cares whether their sausages, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, burgers and salami are made with pink slime or mechanically-separated meat. But maybe one day they will - if any of those things are found along with horse meat.
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