Horse meat

Consumer Reactions to Europe’s Horsemeat Scandal

In All, Food Products, Research Brief by Keri Szejda

A research brief on “Consumers’ Confidence, Reflections and Response Strategies Following the Horsemeat Incident,” a peer-reviewed article published in the journal, Food Control.


In 2013, routine testing revealed that processed beef products sold in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland contained horsemeat, sparking a European Union-wide investigation of food fraud.


The study explored the meat fraud’s impact on consumer confidence in the global food chain, as well as consumer response strategies to restore confidence.


The researchers used an online deliberation tool to engage with consumers on the topic. The researchers analyzed the consumers’ comments, responses, and questions and identified themes of recurring patterns.

Key Results

Participants reported changes in their meat purchasing behavior, including less processed meat and more locally sourced meat. They also expressed a desire for increased traceability and correct labeling of products.

What’s the Ingredient Safety Issue?

While eating horsemeat itself is not considered a food safety issue, eating horses is considered taboo in many countries. Increased consumer awareness of the global food supply chain – and its lack of traceability and transparency – raised consumer concerns about the risk of potentially harmful food ingredients. One of the biggest concerns centered around the presence of bute – a pain medication commonly used in horses but not permitted in food animals. Though only trace levels of bute residues were found,  consumers viewed the presence of bute (and horsemeat) as “indicative of slack processes and a lack of careful regulation” (p. 725).

Barnett, J., Begen, F., Howes, S., Regan, A., McConnon, A., Marcu, A., Rowntree, S., and Verbeke, W. (2016). Consumers’ confidence, reflections and response strategies following the horsemeat incident. Food Control, 59, 721-730. doi:10.1016/j.foodcont.2015.06.021