Horse head on cow body

Discreet Meat Deceit

As you’re probably aware, horse meat has been found in many of the UK’s cheaper ‘beef’ products. This led to an investigation which discovered that this is happening all over Europe, including Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and France. Personally, I don’t mind, but a lot of people are creating a lot of noise about it, so it must be pretty important. I think maybe its the fact that people have been mislead. But how was the horse meat initially discovered in these products?

Horse head on cow body
Corse or How?

Some of the products tested showed a positive result for equine DNA – but if DNA is, at the end of the day, made of exactly the same building blocks in every living species on earth, how can you identify horse DNA from cow DNA from human DNA? Every individual living thing on the earth has their own unique DNA sequence (except identical twins) otherwise we’d all be clones of each other, and there are certain genes that must be present in each species in order to make them look how they do. An example would be the genes that give horses a single hoof and cows a cloven hoof on each foot, or the genes that give the horse one stomach chamber but the cow four.

The DNA sequences of many, many animals have been catalogued, and so if a sample of meat is subjected to a DNA test, you can compare the genetic material in the meat to the ‘generic’ horse genome, and if horse meat is present, you know you have it in your sample!


So, what are the implications of having horse meat in our burgers, lasagnes, etc? Horse meat is cheaper than beef in some countries, so using it can drive the price of products down. Horses are also fed a drug called bute as an anti-inflammatory, but it is actually lethal to humans at high enough concentrations, but you’d have to have a lot of it to kill you (it is still used as a last resort for extreme cases of spinal arthritis in humans – but only a last resort as the side effects are quite serious).

My opinion is that horse meat is leaner, apparently more succulent than beef, and is considered a delicacy in many countries, so maybe we should start too? Original post and personal blog at


Dan Jenkinson

Final year chemistry student at the University of Sheffield, wanting to share my love for science with the world.

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