Is There Horsemeat in Our Hamburger? Inquiring Gut Check Wants to Know!

Mar 14, 2013 at 10:00 am

Anyone besides Gut Check been keeping a finger on the pulse of the European horsemeat scandal? Here's a pop quiz so you can prove it:

Which of the following companies doesn't belong with the others?

A. Aldi B. Burger King C. IKEA D. Walmart E. McDonald's F. Taco Bell G. Birds Eye

(Answer at end of this post. Oh, OK, here, lazybones.)

Gut Check has never eaten horsemeat -- that we're aware of. You?
Gut Check has never eaten horsemeat -- that we're aware of. You?

We consider ourself moderately well informed about the deal, but our curiosity was piqued, all the same, by a press release that landed in our inbox from a company called Neogen, headlined simply, "Neogen responding to horse meat in beef concerns."

Neogen, it turns out, is a publicly held company based in Lansing, Michigan, that manufactures the F.A.S.T., or Food Analyte Screening Test, which can detect the presence of a different species in the flesh of uncooked meats or meat products.

According to the press release, F.A.S.T.s "are immunostick assays that can provide clear visual results in about 30 minutes" and are available in versions that can detect cow, horse, sheep, pig and poultry.

With U.S.D.A. approval of equine abattoirs on the horizon and visions of unmasking stateside impostors dishing out horsemeat bolognese dancing in our head, Gut Check had our secretary get Lansing on the horn. We were quickly passed along to Neogen's vice president of food safety, Ed Bradley, who took the time to respond to a list of e-mailed questions -- and instantly lay waste to our food-vigilante-superhero dreams.

Is There Horsemeat in Our Hamburger? Inquiring Gut Check Wants to Know!
image via Neogen

How much does the F.A.S.T. kit cost? $12 per test.

Could you use one in, say, a restaurant? The tests are set up for laboratory settings. From a practical aspect, the time is relatively long for use before a meal (time to results after extraction is 30 minutes), plus the expense could exceed the value of the meal. We are structured as a business-to-business provider.

Are they available retail? We market our test kits to food producers and laboratories, but not to the end consumer or retailers.

Drat! Any sales figures? How many has the company sold year-over-year so far? This is not information that Neogen Corporation is able to share with independent inquiries, as we are a public company (NEOG).

Who buys 'em? Suppliers to the major grocery chains, food-service companies, laboratories testing on behalf of food processors, etc.

Is there a market among Americans? Most of the current market is in Europe, due to the adulteration scandal and where they are finding positive results.

We've all heard about the horsemeat scandal in Europe. Do you know of any other outbreaks of this sort of fraud anywhere else? Anything in the past? There are reports of adulteration of meat products from time to time, but not to the degree of this situation. Pork is often a potential adulterant of interest, due to religious and ethical beliefs.

Tilapia and red snapper -- not same fish. - left | right
Tilapia and red snapper -- not same fish.

What about seafood? Yes, the public and restaurant buyers are concerned whether or not they are getting the product they are paying for -- e.g., red snapper vs. tilapia, which is less expensive. There are no rapid tests for fish speciation.

While we've got you, we have to ask: Have you heard anything about the rumor that restaurants may be substituting sliced pig rectums for calamari rings? It was the subject of an episode of the public-radio program This American Life. No, I'm not aware of this report.

Click through for the answer to today's Current Events Quiz...