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Taco Bell is just the latest company in Europe that's been found inadvertently serving horse meat, but as the controversy spreads overseas, the United States may be preparing to bring horse slaughter back to this side of the Atlantic.

British food regulators say that their ongoing search for horse meat in regular beef products turned up for four positive results this week, even though the overwhelming majority of tests came back clean. The positive tests found traces of horsemeat in Bird's Eye frozen meals, and in the ground beef supplied to Taco Bell's three UK restaurants. They've since pulled all ground beef from their stores. 

Since horse meat was first discovered in frozen supermarket burgers at a British grocery store back in January, increased testing has found dozens of products, in Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark, Czech Republic, and across the European Union. Even Ikea's Swedish Meatballs were tainted. In all cases, the companies themselves were not purposely serving horse meat, but found it mixed with beef and pork purchased from suppliers. The horse meat is sometimes mixed in to lower costs.

Yet at the same time panic over the horse meat controversy grows overseas, Americans have been constantly assured that that our food supply doesn't contain any horses and we don't import horse meat from foreign countries. However, that first part could change soon: The U.S. Agriculture Department is quietly moving to approve a new slaughtering plant—the only one of its kind in America—that would process horses for human consumption.

Horse slaughter was effectively banned in the U.S. in 2007, but unfortunately, that didn't save the horses themselves from being turned into meat. They were simply shipped to other nations, where poor standards and the stress of extra travel only prolonged a painful end to their lives. (Even PETA agrees that if they're going to be killed, it's better to do it here.) If the Deparment of Agriculture is willing to reinstate inspections for horse meat, a new plant in New Mexico could soon go back online so that horses destined for slaughter would be taken care of here. Americans would then be able to purchase USDA-inspected horse meat and know it was safe.

However, that will surely raise more concerns about horse meat secretly finding its way into other foods, the way it has in Europe. Eating and serving horse meat is not illegal in most places. (The real problem is inspections, which don't exist in the U.S. at the moment.) But trying to pass it off as low-cost beef or pork is—and that's what has people truly concerned. It's not that bad, though.

Taco Bell photo by Mike Baird via Flickr

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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