Legal or Not, Will Americans Ever Buy Horse Meat?

  • Share
  • Read Later

Every week, it seems, another restaurant, supermarket chain, or Swedish furniture maker announces that instead of feeding its customers beef, they — whoops! — accidentally served horse meat. Most Americans, of course, react with revulsion at the very thought. But that’s not stopping advocates from trying to open the first horse meat processing facility to operate in the U.S. in years.

For weeks, horse meat has been making unwanted appearances in the European food system. It’s been detected in Ikea meatballs. It’s been found in frozen lasagna in Italy. It’s shown up in frozen beef patties at British supermarkets.

Even though the problem hasn’t been detected in the U.S., the widening scandal has caused outrage and revulsion among Americans, who haven’t practiced hippophagy — the practice of eating horse flesh — on a regular basis for decades. U.S. horse meat consumption briefly peaked during World War II, when more conventional meats like beef were rationed, says Andy Smith, a culinary historian at the New School. But within a few decades, Americans had almost entirely forsworn the practice. Why? The animal rights movement played a role. More significantly, though, we had anthropomorphized horses, just as we had our other household pets: Horses weren’t livestock; they were our friends.

(MORE: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us)

Even so, we were still sending horses to domestic slaughterhouses until the middle of the last decade. But after sustained pressure from animal rights advocates — Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, says that meat processing plants often jammed horses into cattle trucks and failed to limit aggression between the animals — Congress shut down the industry in 2005 by de-funding inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. No inspections, no legal slaughterhouses. By 2007, domestic horse meat was essentially non-existent.

The legislative pendulum seems to have swung back again, however, apparently influenced by people like Dave Duquette, the president of a non-profit organization called United Horsemen. He argues that since U.S. slaughterhouses were shut down in 2005, neglect and abuse of horses has skyrocketed. Owners don’t know what to do with older horses that can become difficult to care for. Indian reservations are being overrun by feral horses, he says. And that increased supply of horses has dramatically driven down their price. Duquette says that horses that used to sell for $1,200 to $1,500 now go for as little as $50, further contributing to their neglect. So Duquette says he’s trying to get slaughterhouses to reopen in the U.S. to reduce the animal’s population and increase their value and welfare.

“We’ve got 10 million horses in the United States, domestic horses,” says Duquette. “And 80% of those fall into the category of the backyard hobby horsemen, the ones who just go out and trail ride a bit. And they went from owning an asset to owning a liability.”

The Humane Society’s Pacelle responds that the problem of horse overpopulation is a fairy tale. More U.S. horses are being slaughtered today than in the past, he says; they’re just being sent to facilities in Canada and Mexico rather than in the U.S. Indeed, according to U.S.D.A. numbers compiled by the Humane Society, about 167,000 American horses were slaughtered by our two North American neighbors in 2012, more than during any year when it was legal to slaughter them in the U.S.

In any case, in 2011, Congress again made it possible to slaughter horses in the U.S. — at least in theory. Such facilities need to be approved and inspected by the U.S.D.A., and that has yet to happen. The U.S.D.A. says two processing facilities — one in New Mexico and another in Missouri — have applied for a grant of inspection from the department. The New York Times reported Thursday that the proposed plant in New Mexico, owned by Valley Meat Company, may be approved to open within the next two months. Sequestration, however, may cut into the U.S.D.A.’s food safety budget, delaying these inspections indefinitely. Even if the funding is available, however, the U.S.D.A. would face the fresh challenge of testing for a host of new drugs, including anti-inflammatory medications that make horse meat unfit for human consumption.

(MORE: What Happens When the Fed Really Does Run Out of Ammunition?)

The question remains, however: Would Americans ever again be interested in eating horse meat? Duquette claims domestic demand does exist. “We’ve been contacted by so many people that want horse meat as soon as it’s available,” says Duquette. “I think there’s a small group of people that might be outraged. But there’s plenty of demand, and plenty of demand overseas.”

It’s true that a number of European countries eat horse meat regularly and would likely buy American exports of the product. But a recent poll commissioned by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found that 80% of Americans oppose the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

And ultimately it’s hard to see Americans in large numbers overcoming their disinclination to eat a species that plays such an important role in the mythology of their country — and in their personal lives. As food historian Smith puts it: “What’s wrong with eating cats and dogs? Well, they’re members of our family. And that’s how many people feel about horses.”

12 comments
hrwaller
hrwaller like.author.displayName 1 Like

Food eats grass!  As to eating horse meat a warning; it makes lousy burgers unless you add some additional fat or mixing it with about 6 oz. of shredded cheese in with a pound of whinny burger makes a pretty good patty for the grill.  Any recipe for moose or elk works well with horse in fact the meat from all three looks just the same plus you don't have to travel to moose/elk country, hike all over, and then have to drag the carcase back to the truck to take it home assuming you even get a shot at one to begin with.

Horace2013
Horace2013

check out the fun mobile app called "horse meat or not" that detects if horsemeat DNA is in the food you are eating... or does it? ;-)
Take a peek at www.horse-meat-or-not.com

CricketJ19
CricketJ19 like.author.displayName 1 Like

For those who won't eat horse - why? Are they so much superior to cows, rabbits, deer, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc? Do you know because you have had direct contact with both types of animals? The only people who can discuss the cruelty of hurting/eating such a "beautiful" animal are people who do not eat any kind of meat.... hypocrites....

I for one would be more than willing to give it a try....

VidaLiera
VidaLiera

I would not eat horse meat. I will go vegetarian!!  I do not eat the animal that is my best friend.  They have much different shots than beef has. They say they will not harm us, what about years down the line, are we going to get cancer? Everyone has the cells waiting to be activated, with this activate it? Horses also have the shots that they don't have for humans, which is for West Nile. So beings we can not take that shot, would we in the near future if not sooner have complications.  Many years ago, Apache Indians ate horse meat, then they learn they could ride the horses. Which they enslaved the Indians, now they are going to dispose of the walking history around us? Horses should be considered Land Marks. They came from our ancestry, the west, was the good old day. Days that will never exist or never will have a chance to exist, the days of the past. It saddens me, when people do these acts while our military is in war to give us freedom. What will it take to give our walking Land Marks freedom.  They are Beautiful Majestic Animals!!  They do not deserve this!!    

stephen.p.villano
stephen.p.villano like.author.displayName 1 Like

@VidaLiera you really should have fully read the article. The animals must be clear of all shots before they can be approved for slaughter for human consumption.

Immunizations are not of concern, save with live virus inoculation, which is rare. Antibodies are destroyed by cooking, just as any unpleasant microorganisms are.

Apaches ate horse and rode horse, depending on need and horse surplus. But, why let silly little things like documented factual history get in the way of the issues of histrionics?

Onepatriot
Onepatriot

I don't think this intelligent and beautiful animal should be food for humans.  I wouldn't eat it.  Don't we already have enough slaughtering going on?  I know it horsemeat is sold in Mexico, and elsewhere, but  we're not lacking for meat choices in the supermarket.   Seems like anything goes in the business world.

JamesO'Neill
JamesO'Neill like.author.displayName 1 Like

As far as it concerns cats and dogs, one cultures pet is anothers hot lunch. In fact, the Chinese word for food  and for dog is Chow! As long as you are informed whats the problem? (Please pass the Japanese roasted grasshoppers!)

JanineM
JanineM like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I guess the defunding of inspections would be, in this case, "equestration".

Steve851
Steve851 like.author.displayName 1 Like

While somewhat superficial, this is a fairly good article.  The subject matter, however, is very insignificant.  Dewey correctly notes that if it were pork instead of horse, we'd never see a story about it. The FDA allows a small amount of insect parts in our canned goods and I don't see any outrage about that. 

 I like meat, and in moderate amounts, it is very good for.  I've never had it because of its unavailability in the States, but horse meat is supposed to be better for you and more nutritious than beef.  If I ever go to Europe, I'd definitely try it.  I just don't see the problem.  BTW, I find "all meat" franks tastier than "all beef."

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

I've had horse meat in the past.  It's a bit gamier than beef, but not that much different.  If you weren't told it was horse, you probably wouldn't have noticed the difference.  It certainly didn't harm me in any way.  While I'm sure there are those who are appalled at the notion of eating horse meat, it's generally a healthier red meat than beef in many ways with less cholesterol and more iron.

But it seems to me the main controversy here is false advertising.  If it's labeled as beef, it should BE beef.  If it's labeled as a meat product, then you're pretty much covered, even if that doesn't have the sales pull of an "all beef" logo on the product.   That lack of prior notification, combined, with the "ick" factor a lot of people have toward eating horse, seems to have blown this issue way out of proportion.  Yes, truth in advertising is important, but it seems to me that if the meat involved was pork instead of horse, this would be a complete non-issue.

stephen.p.villano
stephen.p.villano

@DeweySayenoff haven't had horse meat, Congress decided what meat may be on my table, when they outsourced thousands of American jobs to Canada and Mexico. I'm amazed that I can still get goat and lamb in the US, though I pay a war price of it!

But, the beef lobby was happy, as were the animal rights activists. The latter must have assumed that the excess animals would not be transported north or south, but instead went to an old horsie home or something. 

But, Congress has long been doing what it's been doing for decades, shutting down American industry to keep the campaign finances going strong, screwing the populace at every turn.

mike_milew
mike_milew

@stephen.p.villano @DeweySayenoff I'm nit against eating meat, but why? I mean, is there a demand for horse meat in the US? I don't really see the point. That's kind of like, all of the sudden they are going to start slaughtering dogs for human consumption. They do it in other countries, justice like with the horses. But we are not a 3rd world country.......yet. I eat a lot of meat, I just guess this won't be for me.