Europe's horse meat food labeling scandal continues to hit major food companies, while regulators in the U.S. are weighing whether to allow horses to be slaughtered stateside for human consumption.
American consumers, meanwhile, are growing concerned that horse meat could eventually end up in their food supply.
After European inspectors found traces of horse meat in IKEA’s frozen Swedish meatballs last week, four new products in England, including Taco Bell's Ground Beef, have tested positive for equine DNA, BBC News reported.
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Taco Bell apologized to customers, saying the products had come from a supplier in Europe and all of its tainted stock has been removed.
"Once we learned of this issue, we immediately voluntarily tested our product for our three Taco Bell restaurants in the UK,” a Taco Bell spokesman said. "Based on that testing, we learned ingredients supplied to us from one supplier in Europe tested positive for horse meat.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency said that as part of the latest round of tests, three other products — Birds Eye's Traditional Spaghetti Bolognese and Beef Lasagne and catering supplier Brakes' Spicy Beef Skewer — have also been found to contain horse meat, BBC News reported.
Initially, horse meat was detected in January in frozen burgers on sale in England and in Ireland, and since then traces have been discovered in many processed beef products and prepared meals throughout Europe.
The latest developments on Europe's horse meat scandal come amid reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is likely to approve a horse slaughtering house in Roswell, N.M., within the next two months, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Horse meat isn't allowed to be produced in the U.S. for human consumption, but the USDA’s decision would allow it to occur for the first time since 2007, according to the Times.
Congress decided not to extend a ban on USDA horse meat inspections back in November 2011. Roswell-based Valley Meat Company sued the USDA over what it said was the lack of inspection for horses going to slaughter, according to the Times.
Currently, horses destined for slaughter have been shipped to Mexico and Canada instead, the Times reported.
A spokesman for the agriculture department, Justin DeJong, told the Times that "several" companies had asked the agency to re-establish inspection of horses for slaughter. "These companies must still complete necessary technical requirements and the F.S.I.S. must complete its inspector training service," he said.
Such a decision to bring back horse meat production in the U.S. may not be too popular with American consumers who feel a deep aversion to eating horse meat.
According to Food Museum co-founder Meredith Sayles, Americans see horses as something more than just animals.
“In the U.S. and U.K. horses are almost considered pets,” Sayles said. “And we don’t eat our pets.”
In fact, attempts by chefs to serve horse-based dishes have prompted passionate and even violent responses.
A restaurant owner in Philadelphia was threatened last week after announcing his plan to add horse meat to the menu.
“They called into the restaurant and said, ‘You guys start cooking horses, I am going to blow up your restaurant,’” Peter McAndrews told NBC10.com.
Although horse meat is not necessarily unsafe for human consumption, opponents of horse slaughtering say that its consumption is risky because of the use of various kinds of drugs in horses.
The Humane Society of the United States has filed a petition with the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration to delay approval of any facility that would slaughter horses, citing concerns over drugs like phenylbutazone, used to treat inflammation in horses, the Times reported.