Tag Archives: horse meat

Karen Constable
Food Fraud Quick Bites

No Horsing Around

Karen Constable

You may remember the horse meat scandal of 2013, which involved the recall of at least 10 million products[i] and prompted a new era of awareness of food fraud risks among the international food safety community. In that scandal, horse meat was being used to replace beef.

Despite the widespread publicity received by the horse meat scandal, similar frauds have happened since 2013. For example, in 2021, six people were arrested in Brazil and accused of stealing horses, then selling their meat “disguised” as beef.[ii] Authorities said that up to 60% of restaurants in the area had unknowingly purchased the fraudulent “beef.”

Horse meat is not only used by criminals to replace beef. In regions where horse meat is regularly consumed, such as in many parts of Europe, the ingredient itself is vulnerable to food fraud. Fraud occurs when horses that are not safe to eat are used for human food.

Veterinary drugs, including pain killers and horse worming treatments, can render horsemeat unsafe and make the horse unsuitable for food. Horse passports are used to keep records of veterinary drug treatments and show whether a horse has been ‘signed out’ of the human food chain.[iii]

In September 2022, authorities in the Netherlands discovered incorrect passports for slaughtered horses in the human food supply chain.[iv] The food originated in the Netherlands and was distributed to Belgium, France, Germany and Italy.

Horse meat fraud is attractive to criminals because it offers good profits. There is an abundant supply of horses from the equine racing and recreational horse industries. Unwanted horses are expensive to keep, so they are sold at very low prices or even given away for free. Operations that process cheap or free horses for food can be very profitable.

Food fraud perpetrators who wish to use unsuitable horses for human food must therefore falsify horse passports and other documents to make the horse meat appear legitimate, or use clandestine slaughterhouses and sell the meat through illegitimate supply chains.

There have been 11 notifications of problems with horse passports in Europe since January 2020 reported in the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). These include “Incorrect passports of slaughtered horses”; “Poor traceability records (forged passports) for horse from the Netherlands”; “Horse without medicine pages in the passport”; “Horsemeat from an animal excluded from the food chain” and “Incorrect registration information on horse carcasses.” In 2017, a veterinary drug banned in Europe was found in horse meat imported from Brazil.[v]

Authorities in Spain and Belgium recently smashed a criminal network that was profiting from horse meat fraud and that involved illegal slaughter and falsification of documents. Forty-one people were arrested over their links to the operation. The alleged perpetrators are accused of obtaining horses that were not fit for human consumption, slaughtering them in clandestine operations and falsifying documents to make the resulting meat appear to be legal and safe. The network is believed to have been operating since 2019 and may have netted the criminals more than EUR 1.5 million.[vi] One commentator estimated that a horse obtained for less than EUR 100 was worth EUR 1500 after illegal processing and falsification of its legal status.[vii]



[i] Writer, S. (2013). Living to tell the tail: how and why Australia survived the horse meat scandal. [online] Food & Beverage Industry News. Available at: https://www.foodmag.com.au/living-to-tell-the-tail-how-and-why-australia-survived-the-horse-meat-scandal/ [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].

[ii] Hallam, A.R., Jonny (2021). Gang sold tons of horse disguised as beef and put rotting meat in hamburgers, Brazilian officials say. [online] CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/11/19/americas/brazil-horse-meat-gang-intl-hnk-scli/index.html [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].

[iii] www.businesscompanion.info. (n.d.). Horse passports | Business Companion. [online] Available at: https://www.businesscompanion.info/en/quick-guides/animals-and-agriculture/horse-passports [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].

[iv] webgate.ec.europa.eu. (n.d.). RASFF WINDOW. [online] Available at: https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/rasff-window/screen/notification/569545 [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].

[v] foodnavigator.com (n.d.). Belgium horsemeat call after drug found in Brazilian imports. [online] foodnavigator.com. Available at: https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2017/01/19/Belgium-horsemeat-call-after-drug-found-in-Brazilian-imports [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].

[vi] Europol. (n.d.). 41 arrests for selling potentially dangerous horse meat. [online] Available at: https://www.europol.europa.eu/media-press/newsroom/news/41-arrests-for-selling-potentially-dangerous-horse-meat [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].

[vii] Desk, N. (2022). Europol and Spain lead horse meat fraud investigation. [online] Food Safety News. Available at: https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2022/12/europol-and-spain-lead-horse-meat-fraud-investigation/ [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].



Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

What Is on the Food Fraud Horizon?

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
1 Comment
Karen Everstine, Decernis

People like to ask “what is the next melamine?” Of course, this is an impossible question to answer. However, methods of perpetrating food fraud are rarely novel. Even melamine had a history of use in feed products for nitrogen enhancement.

Examples of recurring food fraud in recent history include:

Spices, food fraud
Spices continue to be a big target of food fraud.

Herbs and spices: High-value commodities, especially when sold in dried, flaked or ground form, have been targets of fraud for ages. Although recent work looking specifically at oregano shed new light on the problems in that particular herb, the group as a whole is long known to be prone to substitution with other plant material and addition of dyes to improve color. Lead chromate and lead oxide have both been used in spices to add color. A recent study in the United States conducted testing on spices recovered from the homes of children diagnosed with lead poisoning and determined that some lead poisoning cases can be attributed to high levels of lead in spices consumed by children.

Milk: Milk has been repeatedly prone to the addition of protein-mimicking compounds such as urea, the addition of other fats such as vegetable oil, and the addition of preservatives such as formaldehyde. Melamine addition to milk discovered in 2008 was not entirely novel. The addition of melamine to artificially enhance the apparent protein content of a product was documented in scientific papers in the 1980s.1

Meat: The two main concerns with meat fraud are species substitution and misrepresentation of production practices. The recent scandals involving horse meat and sick cows slaughtered for meat illustrate the continuing incentive to substitute less expensive species and to misrepresent the production practices of meat.

Liquor: Alcoholic beverages are also a high-value target, especially if they are a popular brand. Counterfeit alcohol is a common form of food fraud cited in the Food Fraud Database. Unfortunately, the use of methanol in unregulated liquor production repeatedly results in illnesses and deaths in consumers.

What forms of food fraud will be common in the coming years? Millennials reportedly place value on sustainability, convenience, high protein, and production practices such as organic and “local.” Verifying claims around production practices through long food supply chains is notoriously challenging. Increasing interest by consumers in these types of label claims may increase this type of fraud in the future.


  1. Bisaz, R., and A. Kummer. “Determination of 2, 4, 6-triamino-1, 3, 5-triazine (melamine) in potatoe proteins.” Mitt. Gebiete Lebensm. Hyg 74 (1983): 74-79.