Waiter, there is snake in my cow

It's a crazy world out there. IKEA meatballs — which should, ostensibly, be 100% cow — are, in fact, at least partly horse. Meanwhile cow genomes are even more mixed up, containing 25% snake DNA. How the hell does that happen? The venerable Ed Yong explains.


  1. The article explains the snake DNA in the cow genome, but that’s a totally different proposition than the horse DNA in the meatballs, which is presumably more a function of having bits of dead horse in the meatballs than of Horizonal Gene Transfer.  Slightly misleading summary.

      1. Every spacefaring race has two things in common. First, they have a food identical to what humans call “Swedish meatballs.”

        — G’Kar

  2. I am beyond horrified by this horse meat scandal. Not because as it’s been widely reported some people in Europe eat horse; to each their own, eating horse is not worse than eating cow or fish for that matter. What horrifies me is this stark realization that we are being fed by unscrupulous food producers who are also adding/doing fuck knows what with our food. Also, this horror has been compounded by the fact that most people in continental Europe (if internet comments are any indication) are reacting in a “who cares?” fashion, not appreciating how much our lives are apparently dictated by said fraudulent food producers. Where I live (The Netherlands), it’s been reported that one of the people implicated in this scandal had already been jailed a few years ago for selling horse meat as Halal beef. How this man crawled his way back into food production without buyers and other producers not making noise about it is beyond me.

    I insist, I am not horrified that people will willingly eat horse meat. I am horrified that they are not up in arms because they (we) are being fed mystery chow without having any say in it. 

    1. My generation grew up under the generation that experience a massive and overwhelming change in food production.  They lived through the 1939-45 war on dried eggs and sawdust.  As food production ramped back up, everyone was amazed and delighted at the many wonders pouring forth from the shops.

      So the business grew.  It’s massively profitable – and it takes just a tiny minority of people to make exceptionally sure they get especially rich, however they do it.

      The more I learn about it, the more I work to eradicate any and all processed food from my world.

      I’m learning to bake bread, and after reading the pragmatic words of Andrew Whitley in “Bread Matters”, I was again amazed at not only the rubbish that goes into industrial baking, and how it’s done, but the inclusions in the manufacturing process that they don’t even need to list, on the basis that they are ‘processing aids’ and not ingredients.

      I’m not an arm-chewing radical, but jeez – what a disgusting bunch of stuff there is in our food world.

      “Fast Food Nation” was perhaps the first wide-selling book to come to our attention, as in, beyond the sphere of the vegans and puritans, but still, it really takes a long time and evidence mounted on evidence to cause change.

      Having ranted, let me say I’ve eaten a horse steak – in ignorance – and it was rather tasty.  I wouldn’t necessarily order it at a restaurant, but given the choice between veal and horse, well – horse.

      End point – we as consumers must push very very hard against the food supply chain to ensure authenticity.

    2. “I am horrified that they are not up in arms because they (we) are being fed mystery chow without having any say in it. ”
      You have a say in it.  You may not be exercising that say.

      1. heh, trust me, I *am* and very, very vocally. I produce two radio shows here in Amsterdam and I have made sure the issue was extensively discussed (including the archive items about the fraudsters being implicated in similar scams in the past and lab research from 2006 that basically alerted of this and everyone more or less ignored until now). I guess I am just expecting people to react in the same outraged manner they do when we touch on a lot less transcendent topics (say, inflammatory statements from some asshat politician). 

        ETA: This just in. Those locally produced, free range, organic eggs weren’t so after all. So, even those who make a point of not buying processed stuff are being scammed one way or another.

        1. It surprises me too. Last time I was in Czech Republic they had a ban on almost all alcohol sales because bootlegging was so commonplace, and some batches of fake name brand liquor were poisoning people with methyl alcohol. While I was aware that some people willingly consume it, I was surprised how most people’s reaction was more along the lines of: well, so yeah some of it is poisonous. 

          People were still serving liquor in bars swearing that the bottles were from before the bad batches. 

          I have to be honest, I tend to think of people in the US as being more lax about that but I think that maybe our lawsuit culture takes over there.

          As for eating processed meat, on one hand you *have* to know you are taking more risk. But that should be educated risk. 

          Maybe if it was something people are often disturbed to eat in the west like rat, dog, cat, or lizards.

          In fact, have they looked for those meats?

          The bit about organic eggs upsets me. My constant battle with autoimmune disease has recently forced me to change my diet *again* and while I try to figure out how to get my blood sugars under control without tripping the gluten wire, or messing my thyroid up more I’ve gone back to including some meats and egg.

          I have to admit I spent a good 10 minutes picking up six of the eggs that made me feel the least distressed. I hate to think that all that was for nothing. Makes me miss the days when we raised chickens.

          Already, before I had stopped eating meat I couldn’t stand to eat any ground meats because inevitably I taste pork in there.

    3. This doesn’t upset me the way the Chinese melamine tainted milk did. At least the food was edible, if fraudulently labelled. Even when you know what you are eating, you don’t know what you are eating. My grandfather was a farmer and i used to play in the grain bins. It was fun. Kind of like a cross between quick sand and a ball pit. And I’ll tell you, there is more than wheat in those bins. Lots of bugs, mostly little ones, and rodents some live, some mummified. They look a lot like potato chips at that point (all the hair falls off). My brother and I used to chase our sisters with them. Once I asked my grandfather how they go the bugs and mice out when the ground the wheat into flour, and he laughed and said it was just extra protein. The fact is we in the developed world are basically pussies when it comes to food. Don’t get me wrong, I get grossed out too (leftovers give me the willies), but go to a village market in the Congo where there is no refrigeration or ice. Bush meat anyone?

  3. BTW, the actual linked article is about retrotransposons, which are frankly pretty cool, if people are done talking about the IKEA horsemeat joke.

  4. Well damn.  I tried the meatballs at IKEA last year for the first time.  They were mighty tasty.  I was gonna make a special trip to buy some for the holidays this Christmas (in salute to my Swedish aunt), and now I have to question the full disclosure of their labels?

    I decided to make Italian meatballs instead using mostly ground lamb, and a little pork for the fat content… at least I think it was lamb and pork.

  5. I’ve eaten both horse and snake.  The former tastes like school cafeteria meat and the latter tastes like generic white fish.  Neither tastes like chicken.

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