The ever-widening scandal that began with horse DNA found in Irish and British beef burgers has been blamed on a variety of things, including a Romanian "horse mafia", opaque supply chains and weakened legislation on the European meat industry.
Writing in the Financial Times, Jamie Smyth posits a new theory — the influx of cheaper horse meat into the European beef supply chain can be directly linked to the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath.
Smyth uses the example of Ireland, where the "Celtic Tiger" years saw a rise in pet horses and sports horses, to back up the theory:
The surge can be seen most easily in Ireland, which is home to a €1bn bloodstock industry and, with an estimated 110,000 sports horses, is the most horse dense country in Europe. In 2007, the country produced 12,633 thoroughbred foals, more than the combined total of France and the UK.
But the economic crisis has yielded a growing number of unwanted horses, many of which are being slaughtered. Last year almost 25,000 horses were sent for slaughter at registered abattoirs and slaughter houses, up from just over 2,000 in 2008. The number of abandoned horses is also on the rise with 2,364 animals seized in 2010 by Irish authorities, treble the number five years earlier.
Ireland wouldn't be the only example of course — Smyth lists similar trends in Spain and the UK (in the US horse slaughter is restricted and most horses are sent abroad to Canada and Mexico).
It also seems likely that the Romanian "horse mafia" (the nickname criminal gangs reported to control the illicit trade in horse meat in the country by the British press) may well be a product of the dire economic times of the country's farmers — after 2008 Romania was plunged into a severe economic crisis, and was forced to rely on money from the IMF.
An abundance of horses that were now too expensive to maintain meant there was an influx of horse meat into the European market. This coincided with the global supply of beef plateauing, and beef prices rising for six years.
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