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Nutrition, Science

Coming soon to a high street near you… horse meat burgers?

The Hillbilly Grill II by David Robert Wright, on FlickrA Findus ‘100% beef’ lasagne made from 100% horsemeat now has a market value of over £50 ($75). A bargain.

The woes of the processed meat industry may continue unabated. The exposé of recent weeks has been staggering: horsemeat and pork in ‘beef’ burgers, Non-Halal meat in ‘Halal’ meals and, staggeringly, 100% beef lasagne without a trace of beef (reported to be selling on eBay at over £70). And yet, the humiliation of the big name food manufacturers spreads outside the UK, as Europe-wide testing finds the food industry with its pants down.

It’s time to care about what goes in our food

Ironically, while British butchers are profiting: their sales are galloping (groan) as we carnivores hunt for a trustworthy source of fare. Last year, one genetic test showed Tesco meatballs contain the meat from over 150 different cows. Much of our processed meat produce literally comes from vats of meat slurry. Perhaps from the equi-centre of this confusion, we may start to take more interest in what is put in our food. And demanding something better.

Eating horse is taboo in the UK. Well, it has been until it became apparent we’ve probably all been unwittingly eating it for years. Horsemeat has health benefits over beef, so perhaps we ought question why it is fine to eat Daisy, but not Dobbin.

The local takeaway under the microscope

The high street takeaway is rarely subject to much scrutiny – most local grill joints will probably have no idea of the nutritional values of their offerings. One team of calorie-committed researchers (from Ireland’s SafeFood organisation) took to the streets of Ireland and Britain to discover the nutritional value (or lack thereof) of independent takeouts. Visiting dozens of food outlets, they bought hundreds of beef burgers (about 500 in total) for analysis. Keeping the polystyrene firmly sealed, they took them back to the lab for an in-depth nutritional analysis.

Better than your Quarter Pounder: a mare-burger with mustard?

Tiny Burger Brett by SVTHERLAND, on FlickrPortable, tasty and hand-sized – it is little wonder the burger is the world’s top takeaway food. Bread, meat and salad have the potential for a nutritious meal, but independent beef burger meals are rarely balanced sustenance:

Scary Burger Fact 1: The Quarter Pounder meal is food for a day

The average Quarter Pounder burger from a British grill gives a third of a day’s calories and fat – not an reasonable amount for one meal (622kcal, 31% GDA). But add the bacon and cheese toppings, all the sauces, fries and a soft drink and you are consuming enough calories, fat and salt for an entire day. This doesn’t leave much space for dessert, let alone breakfast and dinner.

Scary Burger Fact 2: Kids’ Burgers certainly aren’t child-friendly

Half of all independent burger bars offer a Kids’ burger option (designed for children – not the size of a child). Remarkably, they were found to weigh on average about the same as an adult burger (4 oz). Of greatest concern was the discovery that a third of ‘Kids’ burgers’ were actually larger than the average regular burger.

(You can read all the stats and findings here)

Pony Quarter Pounder is a healthier option

With fewer calories 25% less fat, 20% more protein and double the iron, horse would be healthier than cow to put inside a bap (although nutrition varies for different cuts of meat). In taste tests, horsemeat burgers were found to taste better than beef ones – a recent blinded survey putting horse burgers above 90% of conventional burgers.

Should we diversify our diet?

The food mislabelling scandal has been alarming, and has made many of us think more about what goes in our food. There could be the silver-lining – making us think again about age-old prejudices. Diversifying our diets – although not necessarily with equine produce – has the potential to improve our health. The local farming industry could benefit, by forcing retailers to import meat to satisfy our desire for lean beef and chicken cuts all year round.

I think it’s time for a little Vive La France! Do we have any reason left not to eat horse?

Thanks for reading – all opinions expressed are my own. This blog is intended for information and entertainment purposes and is not to be used for medical or health guidance. Feel free to discuss in the comments below…


SafeFood (2012). What’s in that Bun? Nutrition Takeout Series

Lee, C., Seong, P., Oh, W., Ko, M., Kim, K., & Jeong, J. (2007). Nutritional characteristics of horsemeat in comparison with those of beef and pork Nutrition Research and Practice, 1 (1) DOI: 10.4162/nrp.2007.1.1.70

About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...


2 thoughts on “Coming soon to a high street near you… horse meat burgers?

  1. Hi I have no problem with eating “le cheval” but media reports that much of the horse meat is from unidentifed sources which may be contaminated with hormones/ drugs etc which could have an effect on our health – particularly our children. Would you agree Stu??

    Posted by MaterQ | March 1, 2013, 5:19 pm

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