A Tesco burger walks into a bar. "Pint please". "I can't hear you" says the barman. "Sorry" replies the burger. "I'm a bit horse".
It's been the Horsegate scandal and it's been an unbridled disaster. While the many jokes floating around the internet show the lighter side, the furore surrounding the revelation that processed beef used for burgers for leading Irish and UK retail chains has been largely negative; met with indignation and outrage. With Burger King announcing today that it will no longer source meat from its UK and Irish supplier; we can see the potential for contagion - with large impact to the economically important beef industry.
But here's the issue I have; is it not just a hoo-ha about nothing. Don't get me wrong the failure of quality control in food processing, and its vulnerability to foreign body introduction, has me concerned. But, let me ask: if we found out our burgers were 'contaminated' with meats such as chicken, lamb or pork, would we even flinch? And if the answer is 'no', then ask yourself, 'why the taboo because it is horse meat?'
The truth is our squeamishness is totally unfounded, and from a nutritional aspect we should be demanding the introduction of horse meat as an alternative to beef burgers. Horse meat is a superior nutritional source to the other red meats we habitually eat of both iron and omega-3 fatty acids, two critical nutrients many of us don't get enough of. Consuming two 175gram horse meat servings a week will supply 2.3grams of poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and 13mg of iron, compared to 1.8 g of PUFAs and 8.1 mg of iron and 1.2 g of PUFAs and 6.1 mg of iron for beef and pork respectively (1).
A recently published randomised controlled trial investigated the consumption of two servings of horse meat a week in healthy males for 90 days (1). The study found that the dietary intervention reduced serum levels of total cholesterol by 6.2% and LDL cholesterol by 9.1%. Levels of iron status markers were significantly increased and blood cell omega 3 content increased 8%. DHA levels - critical for cognitive development and maintenance - increased by an impressive 11%. It all suggests that the introduction of horse meat in our diets could be an instrumental step in staving off our two most chronic disease burdens (brain and heart) as well as correcting iron insufficiency which is rampant, especially among pregnant and menstruating females.
The European horse meat market consumes circa 120,000 metric ton/year and consumption is found principally on the continent in countries such as Italy, France and Belgium, where it is a staple for many. Whatever the reason for our aversion, it's time to take the example of our continental neighbours, get off our high horses and reap the health benefits of the nutritional gem that is horse meat.
Aidan Goggins is the award winning author ofThe Health Delusion
1. Bo, C. D., Simonetti, P., Gardana, C., Riso, P., Lucchini, G., and Ciappellano, S. (2012) Horse meat consumption affects iron status, lipid profile and fatty acid composition of red blood cells in healthy volunteers, Int J Food Sci Nutr.Suggest a correction