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Why Don’t We Eat Horse Meat? 4 Reasons Why

Why Don’t We Eat Horse Meat? 4 Reasons Why

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Whenever the topic of horsemeat comes up, the worldwide equestrian community frowns with revulsion. However, in human history, horses were originally valued for their meat both before and after domestication. So, why don’t we eat horse meat today?

The main reason why most people don’t eat horse meat is that it’s considered taboo. Most western cultures see horses as pets that aren’t for eating. Moreover, riding and sport horses often receive drugs that make them unsafe for human consumption.

In the United States, it is illegal to slaughter horses for profit. Therefore, horse meat is harder to come across in the States than in most other parts of the world. However, this doesn’t mean that horses are safe from slaughter, and many are shipped to slaughterhouses in Canada, Mexico, and Japan.

In this article, we gathered some interesting facts about horse meat consumption worldwide:

4 Reasons Why We Don’t Eat Horse Meat

At the end of the day, everyone is free to choose whether to eat horse meat or not. However, most cultures in the world tend to avoid it for four main reasons:

Horses Are Dear Pets

Young woman hugging her horse

The first and probably biggest reason why we don’t eat horse meat is that horses are our friends. We don’t think of them as a piece of meat that will end up on our dinner table. Instead, we strive to gain their trust and respect and give them the best possible life until the end of their days.

This mentality is not only common in the horse community, but also among the general public. Most people acknowledge and appreciate that horses helped build modern society and oppose the idea of eating them.

What’s more, horses are part of many countries’ cultural heritage. In the United States, wild horses are symbols of freedom and American history. Horses are also fundamental to the British national spirit, as the United Kingdom is home to English riding and the Thoroughbred breed.

Also read: Is Horse Riding Cruel or Vegan?

Risk of Toxicity

When it comes to eating horse meat, there is often a risk of toxicity, depending on where the meat came from. Horse meat from the United States isn’t officially approved for human consumption by a reliable agency. This means that the meat might have drug residues that are harmful to human health.

Most horses today are used for leisure, entertainment, or sporting purposes. Throughout their lives, these animals will receive a variety of drugs to keep them in good condition and health. A few examples are dewormers, antibiotics, painkillers, steroids, and diuretics, most of which are labeled “Not for use in animals used for food”.

Vet injecting a horse in the neck
pirita / Shutterstock.com

The biggest issue is with ex-racehorses that often wind up on the way to a slaughterhouse. Many of these horses will still have performance-enhancing drugs in their system, which can be detrimental to human health.

As a result, any horse meat you come across in the United States is likely to be bad for you. Horses that have been put down by a vet are also unfit for human consumption, as the toxin from the lethal injection will still be in the meat.

If you’re an equestrian, you probably know what it means if a horse is “on Bute”. Phenylbutazone, or Bute, is a common painkiller that most horses will encounter at some point in their lives. However, if these horses are slaughtered, their meat has the potential to cause cancer or other fatal diseases in humans.

Luckily, countries where horse meat is easily available are regularly testing for Bute in the meat. This decision was made following the 2013 scandal, when stores in many countries of Europe discovered that horsemeat made its way into meat products.

Horses Have Spiritual Value

Religious woman holding two horses in a long grass field

Horses are highly respected animals in many religions and spiritual beliefs. If we look back over the last 5,000 years, horses have inspired various famous pieces of literature and art. Their beauty, strength, and the unique bond they can form with humans have earned horses a unique place in our society.

There are many examples from history that highlight the importance of horses to cultures around the world. Epona, the goddess, and protector of all horses, was worshipped by the people of ancient Rome, Gaul, and southern Britain. Her equivalent was Macha in Ireland and Rhiannon in Wales.

Moreover, in 732 AD, Pope Gregory III declared eating horses was a cruel pagan practice and forbid the consumption of horses via the Roman Catholic Church. Experts believe this prohibition had a long-term effect on how many people view eating horses today.

Less Filling Than Beef

Finally, another reason why some countries have stayed away from horse meat could simply be that it’s less nutritious than beef. According to Brian Palmer from Slate, a three-ounce (85 g) slice of roast beef has the following properties compared to roast horse:

CaloriesProtein (g)Fat (g)
Roast beef:179249
Roast horse:149245

Because their meat gives you more calories, protein, and fat per pound, cattle have always been more valuable as livestock than horses. In addition to producing richer meat, cattle also eat 63% less than horses, according to a study by the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Horse milk, a common beverage in Central Asian countries like Mongolia, is also less fatty than cow’s milk. More precisely, it has around three times less fat content, Palmer says.

Slices of raw horse meat on a plate
Horse meat

While we might consider leaner meat healthier, food was more scarce in the Middle Ages than it is today. Many nations, therefore, favored beef on the table as it left them more full than horse meat. This notion might still affect horse meat consumption to this day.

Also read: Do Horses Eat Meat? A Surprising Truth

Eating horse meat is legal in most countries of the world. In the United States, you can privately slaughter and eat your own horse, as long as you don’t profit from it.

Brutal as it sounds, there are no laws in the US against slaughtering horses for personal use. Eating horse meat is also legal and even popular in many countries of the world, like China, France, or Mongolia.

Horse Meat Consumption in the United States

In this section, we’ll take a look at the short history of horse meat consumption in the United States. As it happens, commercial horse slaughter wasn’t always illegal in the country. Before 2005, people could buy safe horse meat from the supermarket that was inspected by the Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

In 2005, however, animal rights activists voiced their concerns over the sale of horse meat. As a result, the US government turned the inspection of horses for slaughter into a paid service. Shortly afterward, the FSIS was prohibited from spending funds on inspecting horses for human consumption.

Since the FSIS couldn’t regulate the sale of horse meat anymore, it couldn’t be sold to consumers in the United States. Importing horses from other countries for slaughter also became illegal. Hence why it is near impossible to buy horse meat in the country.

Groups of horses to potentially be sold for horse meat

The last few horse slaughterhouses in the US shut down in 2007. One of these facilities was in Illinois, and two in Texas. On the other hand, horses are still sold and transported to slaughterhouses abroad.

While horses can no longer be slaughtered in the country, exporting horses for meat presents its own set of issues. The animals usually have to travel long distances to get to their destination, often in horrible and unhygienic conditions.

As the shipping of horses causes prolonged suffering, activists have been fighting to reintroduce horse slaughter to the United States. However, despite several attempts to make horse meat legal, no new law has been passed.

Also read: Do Horses Like Being Ridden?

What Does Horse Meat Taste Like?

Horse meat tastes very similar to beef, with a touch of sweetness and gaminess. It’s one of the leanest forms of red meat on the market, which makes it incredibly healthy.

Horse meat is rich in proteins and omega-3 fatty acids, while having less fat, cholesterol, and calories than beef. This makes it one of the healthiest and most nutritious types of red meat there is. We might not want to hear it, but horse meat is actually really good for you.

Horse meat is also a lot cheaper than beef, which makes it even more appealing to various nations. According to Brandon Gaille, the global auction price of horse meat is $1,200/tonne, while beef is 5,300/tonne. However, this doesn’t stop Western nations from refusing to eat horse meat.

Small group of horses in a paddock

Which Countries Consume Horse Meat?

Countries that consume horse meat include China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Japan, Indonesia, Mexico, Germany, France, and Iceland. Horse meat is most popular in China, where nearly 1.6 million horses were consumed in 2018.

Statistics show that the eight countries that eat the most horse meat consume around 4.3 million horses per year. Eating horse meat used to be more common during the First and Second World Wars, when it was considerably cheaper than beef.

However, horse meat has always been popular in historically nomadic nations such as the Mongols, Yakuts, Kyrgyzs, Kazakhs, and Tatars. In Mongolia, horses are still part of everyday life and are used for meat, milk, riding, and packing.

Other countries, like Canada, Sweden, Italy, and Russia have mixed feelings about horse meat. While horse meat is a delicacy in French Canada, the English-speaking part of the country is generally against it.

Countries where horse meat is not typically available include the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Poland, Australia, South Africa, and Brazil. Food laws also prohibit the consumption of horse meat in religiously active nations such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Jewish people.

Horse Breeds Bred For Meat

Each year, approximately five million horses are slaughtered for meat across the world. Asian countries produce nearly half of the world’s consumable horse meat, while 25% is produced on the American continents (especially Mexico).

Beautiful draft horse trotting on sand

While there isn’t one horse breed that is used exclusively for meat, various draft horse breeds contribute to the global horse meat production. Horses of many French draft breeds, for example, are often bred and raised specifically for slaughter.

Horse breeds that are used for meat among other things include:

  • Ardennes
  • Belgian Draft
  • Boulonnais
  • Comtois
  • Italian Heavy Draft
  • Russian Heavy Draft

These draft horse breeds typically mature early, are economical to feed, and have a high meat yield, which makes them ideal for slaughter. While Thoroughbreds and warmbloods are never normally raised for meat, they can also end up at the slaughterhouse.

What Are Horse Kill Pens?

Horse kill pens are where horses are held before they are auctioned for meat. They are mostly found in areas where plenty of horses are available for meat. Horse kill pens typically hold a high number of horses in unhygienic and cramped conditions and are condemned by the public.

White Lipizzan horse herd in a dry mud paddock

Sadly, there are many reasons why horses end up at such horrible places year after year. Owners will sell their horses to kill pen buyers because they’ve gotten too old, their career has ended, or they are too dangerous or sick to be worth the trouble.

Kill pen buyers will usually pay $100 – $250 to take the horse off the owner’s hands. They also attend sale barns looking for cheap horses to buy for meat, often without full disclosure to the seller.

These buyers will then ship the horses to Mexico and Canada where they sell them for meat. The price of horse meat per pound is currently around $0.58, according to Wildhorseproject.org.

As kill pens cause considerable pain and suffering to horses, there is a public hatred towards them. Both organizations and individuals regularly rescue horses from kill pens to save them from going to slaughter. The more people are aware of how horses sold for meat are kept, the more likely things will change in the near future.