The original article is written in French. Translated into English.
Horse In Beef Patties at La Maison du Rôti
PUBLISHED WEDNESDAY, JUNE 22, 2016
EXCLUSIVE – Can you be certain of what you get when you buy a beef patty? Apparently not. Radio-Canada conducted a test at La maison du rôti, a butcher in the Plateau-Mont-Royal. DNA tests reveal that the horse patties contain other meats … like horsemeat and pork.
Written by: David Simantov-Levi and Davide Gentile
Merguez sausages (a spicy beef and lamb sausage colored with red peppers, originally made in parts of North Africa) contain horsemeat and pork.
These findings were made thanks to DNA tests conducted by the Centre for Genetic Analysis of Trent University in Ontario. La maison du rôti is a major supplier in the world of catering. It states on its website that it employs 95 people and is the supplier of more than “400 hotels, restaurants and institutions.”
The horse in beef patties …
The tests were made from frozen prepackaged patties purchased on two different dates – May 9th and May 16th. Three samples were taken from each purchase.
Patties sold as containing beef only actually contain between 37% and 46% horsemeat. They were also found to contain 38% to 53% beef and between 7% and 18% pork.
A practice known among employees?
A former employee of La maison du rôti, who wanted to remain anonymous, described what he witnessed:
“I used to help chop the meat for burgers and also sausages. They asked me every time to add the horsemeat and sometimes pork.”
This practice has not garnered much reaction among employees. “It is especially employees who are in the production section and most were aware.”
The owner of La maison du rôti, Michel Legrand, is hard-pressed to explain these results. He says he did not know that the horse meat and pork could be present in beef patties. He recognizes that consumers who thought they were buying a product solely of beef are displeased to find out that it contains horsemeat and pork. He added that nobody at La maison du rôti wanted to mislead consumers.
“I will find a solution. I’ll make sure to fix that error immediately.”
It is not easy to distinguish the horse chopped ground beef. “It’s dark, the iron makes it very red,” said Marc Jallot, (chef and food service) at the Tourism Institute and the Quebec hotel industry.
A demonstration conducted at the premises of the ITHQ has allowed us to note the similarity in appearance and taste. “It’s more tender and a little sweeter,” says Jallot. The other marked difference seems to be the price.
“Beef is trading around $ 11 and more per kilo. And horse around $ 8. So we are talking about roughly 30% price differential.”
Arnaud Zbinden, who works in quality control of food services ITHQ
Canada is the second biggest horse meat exporter in the world. A situation attributable in part to the fact that the United States has banned the slaughter of horses for food in 2006.
We found another anomaly in the content of merguez sausages bought also 9 and 16 May. On the packaging, it is stated that they contain beef and lamb. In both cases, DNA tests have indeed revealed the presence of beef and lamb, but also a high proportion of horsemeat and pork.
The sausages bought May 9 contained on average 32% lamb and 22% beef. Sausage also contained 31% horse and 13% pork – two meats whose presence was not indicated on the package. Normally, the horse is not part of the traditional recipe of sausages. Even less is pork, offers Arnaud Zbindende, of ITHQ.
“This is a recipe that comes from the Maghreb, and they do not eat pork. All consumers of this product are Muslims! So it is unimaginable that we can refer to a sausage as merguez, in which there is pork.”
Arnaud Zbindende, ITHQ
The Quran in fact prohibits the consumption of pork, considered “unclean”, as in Judaism Kashrut prohibits pork consumption as well as that of the horse. The owner of La maison du rôti argues that the presence of pork can result from the manufacturing process.
“The merguez sausage is made following the Italian sausage, which is made from pork. I presume that these are traces of Italian sausage mixed with merguez.”
Michel Legrand, owner of La maison du rôti
In an interview Wednesday morning, Legrand said he acted. “We changed the process from the end of the pork recipe. We started all over from scratch.”
As for the large presence of horse in the sausages, he justifies the presence of horsemeat by claiming that he always said his sausages contain horse. [Editor’s note – this contradicts other statements made in this article, where Legrand claims that he did not know about the presence of these other meats in his product]
Packets of sausages we bought in May did not indicate the presence of horse but another package purchased the following Tuesday after Michel Legrand was confronted with the results of DNA analysis once again found the presence of horsemeat.
The hunt for offenders is not easy
Montreal is the only city in Quebec to have responsibility for food inspection in institutions.
Without knowing the details of this case, the Head of Division in the Food Inspection service to the City of Montreal said that misrepresentation may result in sanctions. “It’s criminal, and it is between $500 and $9,000 in fines. If there is recurrence, the fine increases, ” said Myrta Mantzavrakos.
But she admits that prosecutions for alternative business are rare.
“We can talk about 4 or 5 cases per year which have resulted in prosecution.”
Myrta Mantzavrakos, Head of Division in the inspection service to the City of Montreal
The City, as the Quebec government, does not have the tools to conduct exhaustive tests, which are expensive and complex. “Our priority is really food safety,” says Mantzavrakos. The service conducts an annual 12,500 inspections, which result in more than 400 lawsuits per year.
But the city may act against misrepresentation in the sale of meat or fish. She also understands the reluctance of employees to report irregularities for fear of reprisals.
“At least they go to our website anonymously and declare what they see. They can be certain that we will deal with it.”
Myrta Mantzavrakos, Head of Division in the Inspection Service to the City of Montreal
In June 2006, La maison du rôti was the subject of a similar investigation by CBC. Irregularities were also found in six meat samples that bison were actually beef or elk. The owner was then said to have fixed the problem.
On their Facebook page, La maison du rôti offers an incredibly weak explanation of their own production processes. They’ve repeatedly been caught substituting undeclared meats in their products and then pleading ignorance once caught. We are incredulous that they cannot explain the process by which horsemeat and pork found their way into their own sausages. Not only that, the owner offers the excuse that he has always claimed horsemeat was in the meat, and yet the labeling on the packages did not comply. There are clearly more than “traces” of foreign meats in these products. Furthermore, the CHDC suggests that some butchers, often purported to be more reliable and forthright in their handling of meat products than large scale meat processing conglomerates, are on occasion, no more honest or careful in their preparation processes than these very firms. Furthermore, it appears that despite horsemeat being consumed in Quebec, the only way to sell large quantities of it is to disguise it as something else. Clearly the demand for horsemeat is not there in the marketplace, otherwise it could be sold as-is.
Facebook Response – Translated from French:
“La maison du rôti is not able to explain this situation. We apologize to our clients for these errors. We immediately created a set of new, stricter rules for handling of meat in order to assure us that the labels reflect the contents of the package:
- The equipment used for the processing of the meat will be dismantled and cleaned between each product category, thus ensuring that mixtures of meat are not included by mistake.
- The manufacture of the merguez will be carried out in the very end of production, in order to avoid any process that allows the inclusion of unwanted meat.
- We reiterate to all of our employees the importance of respecting the labelling rules; the label must accurately reflect the content of the package on which it is affixed.
With regard to products manufactured before the implementation of these new rules:
- We immediately recalled all the boxes of 5 kg of beef patties in circulation. The meat contained in these boxes is of high quality, but we want to ensure that no package with incorrect labelling that does not reflect the content is still in circulation.
- We will refund all our clients who purchased merguez sausage or ground beef at La maison du rôti or we will replace the product by an equivalent product, manufactured under our new rules, for the same reasons.
It is important to emphasize that the quality and freshness of the meat is never questioned. La maison du rôti sells only high quality meat, prepared in optimal conditions of safety.”