Horse: It’s What’s for Dinner?

Eating Horse: A Social Taboo in The U.S.A. and the U.K.
In both the United Kingdom and the United States, the act of eating horse meat, or hippophagy, is taboo, and even appalling to many, though it’s not illegal. So, when it was revealed in February 2013 that up to 100% of the meat found in some frozen lasagna meals, burgers, and spaghetti Bolognese being sold in the UK was actually horse meat, and not beef, consumers in both countries became alarmed.

The revelation didn’t impact only a small minority of Britain’s population either. The products that tested positive for horse meat were being sold at major food chains, including Aldi and Tesco. To put it into perspective, Tesco is the second-largest retailer in the world, second only to Walmart. One reason consumers in the United States continue to be up in arms about their food supply possibly being tainted with horse meat is that both Aldi and Tesco have stores in the U.S. The assumption is that there has to be a connection.

So far, though, there has been no direct link connecting the horse meat saga in the United Kingdom with the United States food supply chain. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, no beef is imported into the United States from any country that was involved in the horse meat scandal. Even so, U.S. consumers remain uneasy about the integrity of the meat they purchase. But, why would something that happened in the United Kingdom continue to have such a visceral effect on United States consumers, even after they’ve been assured that there is no connection between the two?

The Emotional Connection
The thought of eating horse meat versus eating other animals comes down to two primary factors: cultural norms and individual emotions. That’s what makes the act taboo for some people, but a regular practice for others, according to psychiatrist Dr. Dale Archer, who was interviewed by FOX News for a February 15, 2013 online article. Dr. Archer told FOX news “It’s the perception of what the animal represents in the culture.” He continues on to say “No one’s thinking logically that it’s wrong; it’s an emotional reaction…”

Apparently it’s a highly emotional subject and culturally unacceptable act in the United States. In 2011, the federal government lifted a five year ban on funding inspections for horse meat processing, but since then there has not been one plant that has opened across the U.S. The only two plants that tried to open, one in Missouri and the other in New Mexico, failed because of public outrage.

History of Hippophagy in the U.S.A.
Prior to the original 2007 ban on inspection funding, there were only three horse meat processing plants operating in the United States. Two of those plants were in Texas and the other plant was located in Illinois. Even then those processors primarily exported horse meat to Mexico and Canada because Americans just weren’t interested in eating it.

Going back even a bit further, horse meat wasn’t a hot commodity at all in the United States during the 20th century, though it did serve as a temporary protein staple for a short period of time during World War II. Even then, it was only because beef, and other traditionally accepted meats, were being rationed. Similarly, during the recession of 1973-1975, horse meat sales surged because inflation increased the price of traditional meats so much that it made those meats cost-prohibitive for many families.

The slaughtering of horses for consumption in the U.S. has historically only been culturally acceptable during the leanest of economic times. According to William Hallman “It’s a hugely political issue.” Hallman, director of Rutger University’s Food Policy Institute, told ABC news in a February 26, 2013 online article that “It has to do with the slaughter of horses and whether that’s acceptable to U.S. society or not.” Apparently, it’s not.

Current Cultural Resistance
Public opposition to the slaughtering of horses is strong in the United States, according to a poll conducted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The poll results, which were released on February 1, 2012, reflect that 80 percent of American voters oppose the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Further, the survey suggests that the opposition holds regardless of political affiliation, gender, or geographic location.

In the ASPCA’s online press release announcing the survey results, Nancy Perry, who serves as the ASPCA’s Senior Vice President of Governmental Relations, said that “Americans have a responsibility to protect these intelligent, sensitive animals from being butchered.” Senator Mary Landrier (D-LA) agreed, saying in the same article “I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress and other advocates to ensure that the American people are heard and that we stop this inhumane practice once and for all.”

The Argument for Slaughterhouses
As is the case with any controversial subject, there are two sides to the story. Those who advocate for the slaughtering of horses speak of the inhumanities horses currently face because of the economy. Dave Duquette is president and founder of United Horsemen, a non-profit organization that advocates for the acceptance of horse slaughterhouses. In the ABC news article of February 26, 2013, Mr. Duquette is quoted as saying “The problem has gotten worse with horses that are abandoned, neglected, abused and starving to death and the direct cause is this and the economy.”

Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) agrees with Mr. Duquette’s assessment. In a July 15, 2013 article posted at http://www.time.com, Rep. Kingston is quoted as saying “While we all love horses and their contributions to our culture, the ban led to unintended consequences and increased inhumane treatment of the animals.”

Representative Kingston, along with Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), commissioned a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in 2010 that is largely believed to be the benchmark that was used to reestablish funding for horse slaughterhouses. Since then, the GAO report has come under serious scrutiny with allegations that the number of horse abuses was intentionally inflated just to get the funding back in place.

Aside from an alleged increase in the number of neglected and abused horses, according to Mr. Duquette, Native American Indian reservations have been flooded with feral horses since the slaughterhouses were originally shut down. He’s right. In an online New York Times article dated October 7, 2013, Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation, estimates that the tens of thousands of feral horses on the Navajo’s land cost them about $200,000 in repairs annually. However, in the same article, Mr. Shelly, who previously supported the rounding up of feral horses for slaughter, reversed course. Saying “Horses are sacred animals to us”, Ben Shelly indicates in the article that he no longer supports the practice.

All of the controversy surrounding horse slaughterhouses in the United States lends credence to Dr. Archer’s assessment that the reason animals are viewed differently as food sources from person-to-person and place-to-place is because of individual emotions and cultural acceptance. For example, Australian scientists promote the idea of eating kangaroos, saying it’s a greener alternative to beef. In other parts of the world, elephants, silk worms, camels, and guinea pigs are common fare. Unless there’s a major cultural shift towards acceptance of hippophagy in the United States, however, horse will not be on the menu.

The Knockout Game: Real or Ruse?

It’s been called many things, including “knockout king”, “point ‘em out, knock ‘em out”, and most commonly, “the knockout game”. Whatever label you slap on it, however, the purpose of this violent game is the same – knockout an unsuspecting victim with a single punch. Unfortunately, incidents of this specific form of brutality are increasing in frequency across the United States, most notably in many major cities and regions.
The reason for the surge in this type of crime is hotly debated, with many people feeling that it has to do with the notoriety of recording the event and uploading it to social media. Others believe there are socio-economic elements at play. Still, there are those who believe that the events are in no way connected, and that it’s all much ado about nothing. The history of reported knockout game-style assaults, however, tells another story.

The Brutal History
The media seems split on whether or not the knockout game is even real. However, to the countless victims who are left to heal emotionally and physically from the brutal assaults, it is no myth. In fact, one only has to do a quick search on YouTube to discover just how real the knockout game has become. Countless videos have been posted showing the knockout game in action, Self-defense videos have sprung up, and news media from around the world are shown debating the racial implications of this violent game.

The participants in the knockout game also show a pattern of behavior that indicate the game has evolved, and has moved well beyond being just a trend. Reports from the earliest attacks suggest that, at one point, the game involved a group of assailants who took turns hitting the victim until he or she was rendered unconscious. The assailant who was responsible for the punch that knocked out the victim was then considered to be the “knockout king”. The first known fatality of the knockout game represents this version perfectly.

On September 18, 1992, the first known fatality reported in the U.S. as a result of the knockout game occurred on the campus of MIT. Three youths, one of whom later told the police they were playing a version of the knockout game, attacked two young men and robbed them. In this instance, the victim who died was also stabbed.

If there is any good news to come out of this very real and brutal game it is the fact that the attacks have seemed to scale back in terms of their level of violence. Instead of taking turns to see who can land the knockout punch, the majority of the attackers are now ‘only’ hitting their victims once with the goal of attaining the knockout with a single blow. So, who is now being targeted for these one punch attacks?

Age and Gender Implications
No FBI data exists regarding the knockout game because they aren’t singling it out as a unique act. Instead, the game is lumped into the FBI’s violent assault categories, so it makes it difficult to gauge exactly how many assailants and victims there have been altogether. However, the data that has been collected by the media shows that in many cases, specific groups of people are being targeted, including females and the elderly. In other words, the assailants seek out those they consider to be weak targets who will not fight back. Here are several examples:

Fighting Back
Unfortunately for the aggressors, as the knockout game spreads and the victim tally grows, people have started fighting back. Citizens have had enough. Reports are cropping up of men and women turning the tables on their attackers, victims shooting their assailants, and others who are teaching their communities how to defend themselves against such assaults.

State lawmakers are taking notice, as well, and introducing bills intended to provide for stiffer penalties for those convicted of assault while playing the knockout game. For example, lawmakers in Oklahoma, Illinois, and New York want to try juveniles as adults. Illinois also wants to automatically upgrade knockout game-related charges to felonies, which would come with a prison sentence ranging from three to seven years. Wisconsin takes it a step further and wants to charge anyone videotaping such assaults, while in New Jersey, lawmakers are hoping to pass a bill that would require mandatory minimum sentences for these types of assaults. New York is proposing the stiffest penalties, with convictions potentially coming with a mandatory sentence of up to 25 years.

Whether or not the knockout game is real is not open to debate. It is a very real and sometimes lethal game that carries lifelong consequences for its victims. Along with the help of lawmakers though, the survivors, who have now started fighting back, may soon be able to deliver a powerful one-two punch, making their assailants victims of their own game.

PMDD: A Women’s Only Mental Disorder?

When the fifth edition of the Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) was issued, there was a newly classified mental disorder tucked away in the voluminous 991 page book. It’s called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PPMD) and, up until the book’s publication, it was known merely as a condition. Now, however, because of its reclassification as a mental disorder, the potential implications are far reaching.

What is PPMD?
PPMD is a serious form of premenstrual syndrome with profound and debilitating symptoms ranging from irritability and marked depression to social withdrawal, headaches, anxiety, and hypersomnia or insomnia. Often called ‘PMS on steroids’, PPMD affects roughly 3% to 9% of women. It’s a cyclical condition that occurs approximately two weeks before a woman’s period.

Why the Controversy?
Mental disorders in the United States have historically had stigma attached to them. Some believe that if PPMD is labelled as a mental disorder, women will be socially stigmatized in that regard. According to PhD author and psychologist, Paula Caplan “It is really appalling that using PMDD for women who want recognition for discomfort is a very clear message that goes something like: ‘OK, OK, we’ll believe you are feeling bad if we get to call you mentally ill for feeling bad.’ Can you imagine if we did that to men?” In an online article, posted at www.apa.org, Dr. Caplan explains “It’s a label that can be used by a sexist society that wants to believe that many women go crazy once a month.”

But, there could be legal consequences as well. According to Sarah Gehlert, who studies health disparities at Washington University in St. Louis, it could even come down to custody disputes. In an October 21, 2013 online article posted at NPR.org, Sarah said “Say a poor woman is in court, trying to see whether she could keep custody of her child. Her partner’s or spouse’s attorney might say, ‘Yes, your honor, but she has a mental disorder.’ And she might not get her kids.” Considering the fact that the DSM is the psychological disorder authority, Ms. Gehlert’s assessment may not be too far off base.

Is the DSM Just a Conspiracy for Marketing and Profit?
Maybe all of the fiery dialogue is just par for the course. In an online article for The New Yorker, Gary Greenberg writes “Every revision of the DSM causes controversy; that’s what happens when experts argue in public about the nature of human suffering.” If the rhetoric surrounding the classification of PMDD as a mental disorder is just reflective of a natural response to change, maybe the social implications are much ado about nothing, and they will pass just as they usually do when a new DSM is issued.

The problem is, according to Greenberg, that there is something more sinister at work. Namely, the potential connection to pharmaceutical companies, and how they stand to profit greatly from these changes. In the April 9, 2013 article, Greenberg, author of the book The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry, argues that the revised DSM is going to lead to an increase in the eligibility for people to receive a psychiatric diagnosis which, in turn, leads to more drugs being prescribed.

His statement carries weight, too. The last major revision of the DSM was in 1994, and, partly as a result, antidepressant prescriptions jumped from 5.84% in 1996 to 10.12% in 2005. In fact, prescription medication use has increased overall, with the CDC reporting that in 2008, $234.1 billion was spent on all prescriptions across the board, which was more than double the figure from 1999.

To take the point further, it is estimated that approximately 70% of Americans are currently taking at least one prescription drug and, of that number, 13% are antidepressants. That is according to findings published in the online medical journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The prescription records for Olmstead County, Minnesota were evaluated, and published online June 21, 2013. They showed that a total of 68.1% of the Olmstead County population had been given one prescription, 51.6% were on two prescriptions, and 21.2% of the population had five or more prescriptions.

The male-female gender divide in Olmstead County mirrors that of the United States. In the United States, women represent 50.8% of the population, and in Olmstead County, 51.1% of the population is female (2012).

Overall, the report concludes that “women received more prescriptions than men for several drug groups, in particular for antidepressants.” The Mayo Clinic’s findings stand up to the information contained in the Center for Disease Control’s report, which reflects that between 2005 and 2008, 12.7% of the United States female population had been prescribed an antidepressant within the preceding 30 days. That’s compared to only 5.0% of the male population during the same timeframe. What does all of that mean for women and pharmaceutical companies? And, what does it have to do with PMDD?

Rebranding for Profit

Maybe everything, according to the article at NPR.org. In the article, the prescription drug, Sarafem, is used as an example. Identical to Prozac, Sarafem has been approved to treat PPMD since 2000. It’s marketed as a PPMD-specialty drug, but the only difference between Prozac and Sarafem is the cost. While generic Prozac only costs about 25 cents a pill, Sarafem costs about $10 a pill. Aside from the cost, the only other difference between the two pills is their color. Prozac is green and Sarafem is pink. Other than that, they are chemically identical.

The manufacturer of Serafem, Lilly Pharmaceuticals, lost its patent on Prozac in 2000, and market analysts recognize that Lilly engaged in a marketing ploy when it attempted to repackage Prozac as something more socially acceptable. It took $30 million in advertising to do it, but it worked. With Sarafem, pharmaceutical companies again found a way to take advantage of women and the DMS classifications.

What’s next for pharmaceutical companies now that PPMD is officially a mental disorder, and not just a condition? Based on their history of rebranding (Sarafem was just one example of many), and how women’s antidepressant prescriptions outnumber men’s by more than 2 to 1, as well as the fact that prescriptions surge when a new DMS revision is issued, it’s safe to assume that the pharmaceutical companies will likely seize the opportunity to rebrand other drugs. They’ll paint them pretty colors, inflate the price and market them as ‘new’. The problem? Regardless of how pretty they package it, for women who will now be facing the stigma of being classified with a mental disorder, it will be a hard pill to swallow.