Letters: Why we don't like horse burgers

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The reason why we do not eat horses is that it has been forbidden to Christians since the eighth century. The Germans, who were still pagans at this time, consumed horse meat in ritual sacrifices, so Pope Gregory III decreed that recent Christians should show that they were no longer pagans by avoiding eating horses.

All of Christian Europe followed this taboo until the time of Napoleon. He encouraged the eating of horses on the ground that it was not rational to avoid such a useful source of meat.

Dale Serjeantson

Research Fellow

University of Southampton

Reports of horse meat and pig DNA being found in beef products in supermarkets are shocking but not surprising. I strongly doubt there is an agenda among food manufacturers to pass off one meat as another. There is undoubtedly a level of misunderstanding about manufacturing compliance in the food industry.

My own insight comes from the provision of oils used by food manufacturers to provide heat for their processing lines. It is an international requirement that these oils be food-grade – so that they can't contaminate product with non-food-grade fluid. However, many of the companies I meet for the first time are unaware that they should be using only food-grade heat transfer oils.

A total of 27 burger products were analysed, with 10 of them containing traces of horse DNA and 23 containing pig DNA. The problem was discovered by the Irish Food Standard independent test, which highlights the value of independent testing.

What is required is better understanding and application of the regulations we already have that can prevent this kind of contamination. Without this understanding, such contamination is not just possible, it's inevitable.

Clive Jones

Managing director

Global Heat Transfer Ltd

Stone, Staffordshire

As a vegan of 30 years I am appalled that all the burgers "tainted" by horse meat have been pulled.

So all those animals were bred, fattened and slaughtered, usually in horrible conditions – be they cattle, pigs, poultry or horses – to end up in what? A landfill? Just because hamburgers have a form of animal the consumer was not expecting.

What goes into the average hamburger, mince meat, pie or sausage might horrify the average person if they actually knew what parts of animals end up in these nasty cheap value-added foods. We breed, fatten and slaughter on an industrial scale nearly one billion animals a year in the UK for the dinner plate.

If consumers think this industry is completely "clean" they are deluding themselves.

Sara Starkey

Tonbridge, Kent

One way to guarantee the integrity of ingredients in burgers is to follow the example of our French neighbours.

In supermarkets or butchers, one can select the fresh meat and have the burger minced and produced in front of you while you wait, so you can see exactly what you're getting.

John Sainsbury

Woodford Green, Essex

Algeria goes its own way in hostage crisis

Robert Fisk is a lone voice who "gets" the Algerian regime ("The slaughter of good and bad was utterly predictable", 18 January).

The only thing he missed was that the Algerians couldn't risk being linked to Western powers by asking for advice or backup in the hostage crisis, or sharing information, since they were already being heavily criticised domestically for allowing their airspace to be used by the French for strikes on Mali. To align Algeria with the US, UK or France would have been political suicide and resulted in street protests or worse – it still might. A ham-fisted unilateral operation was far preferable from the Algerian domestic viewpoint.

Anyone who thinks Algeria would work with other governments to negotiate a domestic hostage situation is deluded. They are a proud nation who do things on their own terms, answer to no one and believe in destiny.

Frances Amrani

Cambridge

Snow chaos in Norfolk

Why, when it snows, does Britain go into meltdown? I have a 12-mile each-way daily commute into King's Lynn, which I usually do by car. This week went as follows.

Monday: Walk to station (15 minutes) for 8.37 am train after a little snow and bad forecast. Train cancelled. Walk home and use car.

Tuesday: Give up on train, come in by car. After a couple of miles road blocked and endless queue going nowhere. Drive back and catch later train.

Wednesday: Walk to station for later, usually more reliable, train. Buy tickets for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in advance (big mistake). Train five minutes late but otherwise no problems.

Thursday: Walk to station. All trains cancelled until 10.10am due to non-weather problem. Surrender and reclaim on tickets, walk home, give up waiting for car to unfreeze (ice inside as well as out) and come in by bus. Buses spot on, and free too (being of the old persuasion).

Friday: Use car as unavoidable. Car park ticket machine refuses to accept coins.

Meanwhile, by Tuesday Norfolk had 260 closed schools. A friend in Russia tells me they close their schools too – juniors when it drops to minus 25, seniors when it gets to minus 35.

Get a grip, people.

John Gudgeon

Downham Market, Norfolk

Well done to the train companies, who for once are prepared for the likely bad weather, and have cancelled half the trains for the next few days as a precaution.

Alex palmer

Epsom, Surrey

Snow tyres are not obligatory in this country but are on the Continent. The EU has failed us.

Chris Harding

Parkstone, Dorset

Tall buildings by the Thames

I can't help but agree with your two correspondents concerning high buildings along the Thames corridor (letters, 18 January). Apart from the safety aspect, it is questionable whether strategic and local planning policies aimed at protecting important views of and along the Thames are proving effective.

The next candidate to raise similar issues is the Shell Centre, where it is proposed to sweep away the lower elements of this complex and replace them with an architecturally undistinguished group of tall buildings.

Illustrations suggest that the effect would be that of a colony of meerkats surrounding the unlovely and always rather ponderous Shell Tower, which the developers propose to retain.

All this just across the river from the Westminster World Heritage Site. One wonders whether this is a proposal that will again bring together, in opposition, Lambeth and Westminster councils.

Philip Wilson

Barnet, Hertfordshire

Targets of hate speech

Like many people, I was shocked and upset by Suzanne Moore's reactions on Twitter to people who were asking her to consider how transgendered readers may have felt about her "joke" about Brazilian transsexuals (sic).

I was even more upset by Julie Burchill's article, which used slurs that have driven many trans people to suicide, or have been yelled at them as they are being beaten and murdered.

I am cisgendered, but I have many trans friends and have learned as much as I can about people's first-hand experiences with transphobia, and based on that, I thought Moore's comments such as "cut your dicks off and be a better feminist than me" and Burchill's entire article were violent and hurtful.

Terence Blacker has stepped in to point out how silly this reaction was (The Way We Live, 15 January). How could I possibly have thought that slurs directly connected to hate crimes against trans people could count as hate speech? Who could have guessed that asking to be treated as human is "demanding special privileges over those who were born as women"?

Will he be writing further pieces on why racially motivated crimes aren't a big deal, or why gay people should just learn to take a joke?

Alice Nuttall

Oxford

Disabled hit by cuts

The quality of "care" for disabled people is becoming worse by stealth. Local authorities under cash pressure now often restrict home visits to a disabled person to 15 minutes. Could you support someone to bathe and dress, with dignity, in 15 minutes?

It's not "care" if the care workers cannot take off their coats. We need to draw the line and encourage local authorities to stop commissioning such short visits. When money is tight, it should go to those who need it most. Every visit is to a person – someone's brother, mother, neighbour, friend – and not a box ticked.

Clare Pelham

Chief Executive, Leonard Cheshire Disability, London SW8

I am becoming depressed that we are returning to the 1930s, when people who were sick or unable to work relied on donations from charities to survive ("'Ruthless' Atos under fire for sending woman to work in nappy", 18 January). The millionaires in the Government are in denial. George Osborne talks of skivers or strivers; I would suggest he walk a mile in their shoes and have a rethink.

Susan Rowberry

Saxmundham, Suffolk

Fines on banks

Keith O'Neill (letter, 17 January) argues that the insurers for the British Bankers Association should pay the fine which appears to be laid at the taxpayer's door concerning the activities of RBS. The Financial Services Authority prohibited the use of insurance to pay fines (as opposed to compensation) in 2003 as it undermined their impact.

Robert Skilbeck

Didsbury, Manchester

Gloom generation

In all the plethora of accusations about the pension crisis, people – especially younger people – view their longer lives as a problem. You don't want to live longer? What a miserable bunch; no wonder they can't find a solution, unless you count blaming baby boomers as a solution.

Vaughan Thomas

Usk, Gwent

Smile, please

Laura Robson is an attractive, happy girl. Why does media coverage of tennis require her to put on that silly, aggressive Andy Murray expression on winning a point (front page, 18 January)? Until recently, people would have smiled about success.

Phil Wood

Westhoughton, Greater Manchester

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