Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Unbridled hypocrisy over a pie with dead horse

Where would we be without DNA testing? Otherwise who knows what might be lurking under your tomato sauce. Possibly dead cow, mad cow, lame horse or pickled panda. God forbid, it might even be tofu, tempeh or gluten.

 Black Caviar as both entrée and main…

Back in the early 1980s, long before cheap and easy DNA testing, Australia resorted to a Royal Commission into the meat industry to try and resolve the scandalous pollution of dead cattle with dead horse and dead kangaroo in domestic and export meat.

The US recently had its “downer cattle” scandal and now Europe has had headline stories for a week over horse meat. Undercover cruelty footage in slaughterhouses and factory farms is pretty common everywhere and seems to disappear like sketches on a beach at low tide, but mislabel carcinogenic horse as carcinogenic beef and all hell breaks loose.

It’s beyond me why people are surprised at dishonesty in an industry that thrives on killing and promotes a demonstrably carcinogenic product as healthy. But I confess it’s hard not too feel a little guilty pleasure when one kind of meat goes undetected in the mouths of gullible foodies who wax lyrical about flavour and texture but obviously can’t tell a cow from a neddy without a hundred thousand dollars worth of high tech DNA testing equipment and a helpful PhD to drive it all.

What precisely is the problem? Is there really anybody out there who loves horses so much they won’t eat them, but is nevertheless happy to chow down on cattle meat? Do those people mind if other people eat horses? It would be logical for horse lovers to object to the constant churn of horses through the racing industry. This industry thrives on a rapid turnover. New horses spur hope in ever gullible investors who pay the bills in the hopes of being part of another Black Caviar. Slow but otherwise wonderful horses who could be loving companions for many years are readily disposed of once their losing streak outstrips investor patience.

If you really have a soft spot for horses, you must not only hate eating them, but you must also loathe the horse racing industry with a passion. It’s not complicated.

But is there any sign of a general loathing of the horse racing industry in Europe or locally? No. So what’s the problem? Fraud? Misrepresentation? I can understanding somebody who cared about their health or about animal welfare finding that their soy sausages were actually beef or horse or kangaroo or anything else equally carcinogenic and cruel. But finding out that your carcinogenic beef is actually carcinogenic horse or carcinogenic kangaroo? Methinks the fuss is rather exaggerated.

Why is it that you never hear of vegetable substitution rackets? Maybe your mushrooms are actually tomatoes imported cheaply from Turkey. Perhaps your pumpkins are really carrots from Canada or turnips from Tunisia. Maybe you paid for a kilo of peas but the packet was padded with beetroot.

Perhaps there is something intrinsically different about animal producers and plant producers. I don’t think it’s a matter of chance that bakers have enriched our language and culture with the “baker’s dozen” while butchers have instead given us “a thumb on the scales” and “sawdust mince”. Food poisoning and butchers pumping water into meat are regular grist on the current affairs mill.

Clearly the meat industry has done quite a job on its customers. How do you persuade people to part with 50 bucks a kilo for something whose flavour needs to changed by marinating with a potent array of herbs and spices and every kind of sauce?

Some researchers a few years ago did an interesting study on the ways cultural symbols affect how we perceive taste. One experimental group got beef sausage rolls while the other received a vegetarian sausage roll. Half of each group was told truthfully what they were eating, while the other half was told a lie.

So half of the veggie group was told they were eating beef and half of the beef group were told they were eating veggie. Guess what? While half the people had been lied to, fully 80 percent had no idea they’d been deceived. And how they thought the food tasted depended not on the food itself but on whether the symbolism of the food matched their world view.

Those who gloried in power and the domination of others and resources thought their meat meal was great, even if it was actually vegetarian, and those who had a more egalitarian view of social relations thought their vegetarian roll was good, even if it was meat. Conversely, the domination lovers thought their veggie roll didn’t taste very good, even if it was really meat. Similarly, the egalitarians didn’t think much of their meat, even if it was really veggie.

But despite our sense of taste being highly influenced by a range of non-physical issues, the researchers also point out that people who eat a lot of meat insist that they simply enjoy the taste. Which taste? Horse, beef, kangaroo? How many people who have actually eaten kangaroo will confess to not liking it?

They generally wax lyrical, but they must be mostly lying because kangaroo meat is produced in very small quantities and so little is sold locally that the industry has to resort to exporting it overseas to shift it. The analogy to Japanese whale meat is obvious with a story emerging in the middle of last year that 75 percent of the year’s catch was unsold. They couldn’t move even a paltry 1,200 tonnes in a country of 127 million people.

So the horror in meat eaters finding they have been duped has been one of the best comedy scenes of the week. I reckon it’s like when Australia Post asks you to declare earnestly on a package that it isn’t a bomb. They presume a bomber would think twice about telling lies. Does anybody seriously expect robust honesty from slaughterhouse owners? There’s more to telling porkies than just rhyming slang.

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