Monday, 8 February 2010

Horse trading over meat

It sounds like a long overdue and poular move… but the Italian government’s plans to ban horse meat has met with fierce resistance in a country that consumes more horse than virtually anywhere else in the world.

According to the Daily Telegraph, horse meat is popular with young people for its high iron content, and the fact that it probably tastes a lot nicer than liver. A staggering 213,000 horses are slaughtered for meat each year in Italy. The country imports some 20,000 animals from Poland and Eastern Europe in order to satisfy demand. So important is the meat in Italy’s cultural cuisine that Mussolini passed a law that only permitted horses to be butchered and sold through specialist equine meat traders. As far back as the Middle Ages, Pope Gregory III tried to ban its consumption without success.

My knowledge of Italian dishes covers pasta and fish but I can’t recall that last time my local tratoria served up a piece of pony escalope, and yet the recipes for horse meat are legion. For example, in the Veneto region salami, sausages and bresaola are often made from horse flesh. Horse fat is used to flavour stews and soups. The use of horse is deeply engrained in the local culture.

Supporters of a bill now before Parliament calling for the ban say that the "dignity of horses should be respected". Italy's agriculture minister Luca Zaia claims horses should not be eaten and instead "considered just like cats and dogs".

This all sounds fine but there’s something about the move that worries me. Most of us who don’t eat horse can see no harm in banning something that we don’t consume, in much the same way that non-smokers were happy to support a draconian ban on smoking. Today it’s horses that are no longer for the chop, but what if vegetarians begin agitating for rabbits, cows or sheep to be treated with dignity and respect? I can forsee a time in the future when the sale of meat is driven underground by a vocal but militant minority.

Today people may happily support the outlawing of horse meat but they should do so on the understanding that they’re possibly taking a step closer to enforced vegetarianism.


  1. I am now very keen to visit Italy asap just to eat horsemeat, before some nimby bans it. Eating horse is no different to eating any other animal.

  2. If seals weren't so cute nobody would give a crap about harvesting and eating them.

  3. if they ban horse, then get beef, lamb, pork, rabbit etc. banned, it will just force the trade in meat 'underground'

    the only thing that will suffer will be the treatment of these animals and the conditions that they are 'processed' for human consumption.

    won't be long and drug dealers will be selling legally and butchers will be selling from the back of dirty old vans parked in the corner of a council estate near you...

    oh, and i've tried horse steak whilst in france, much nicer than beef steak...

  4. While my sisters are really into horses-riding-I really see little difference between them and eating cows and pigs. They're just nicer to train and ride (the horses not the cows/pigs which my hubby did do and has the photo to prove it).
    I wonder if they taste better than Alberta beef? Our meat is really tasty and tender. Like others, now I'm curious to taste it. I've only seen the can of horse meat and that did not look appetizing at all.
    I wouldn't lump it with the no smoking crowd--I'd like to see that people who choose to kill themselves via this disgusting habit do so only in the comfort of their own home. I despise walking near a smoker, gag gasp gaaaa. Sometimes it is hard to get upwind from them.

  5. Not that i would probably ever want to eat horse myself, I don't really see a problem with eating it - after all, what is the difference between a horse and a cow?? apart from our emotions?

  6. What has happened here in the US due to a ban of selling horses for meat is that you end up with a lot of neglected/dying/abadoned horses when people can't afford to take care of them or don't have the money to euthanize if needed due to age/health/etc. I'm not aware of ever eating horse meat, but if that's your thing and it's done humanely... have at it.

  7. I love horses, but I couldn`t a whole one..
    Same as I love kids ..... on toast..!!

  8. I know they eat donkeys in Italy, and seals in Norway. They have special horsemeat butchers in France and at the markets the salamis are labelled pork, donkey, wild boar, etc., and I think they eat horse and donkey all over the Balkans but don't quote me. The French government tried to get the people to eat horse in the 19th century but apparently the peasants weren't happy about it as their horse was their friend.

    I hope they don't ban it, it may seem disgusting to the English but it doesn't hurt anyone and it saves burying them. And, as you say, it's the thin end of the wedge.

  9. I know horse is eaten here in France, but from what I understand it's not the worn out old nags which appear on the slab in the Boucherie Chevaline, but "poulain": the equivalent of veal. And, contrary to the jokes we used to make about the old boot leather we were served on school trips to France being horsemeat, it is not tough old boots, but a tender, top quality product.
    I feel much the same about this as I do about rabbit - if it is served onto my plate I will overcome my disgust and force it down, but I would certainly never buy or cook it from choice. However, I do agree with you XTM: it's a slippery slope and meat is meat no matter how fluffy or friendly the animal.

    Bye the way, since you posted that pasta & spinach recipe soon after your escape from hospital, we've been enjoying it - and variations on the theme, regularly. Thanks very much!

  10. Horse meat is unfit for humans to eat.
    Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 48, Issue 5, May 2010, Pages 1270-1274
    Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses bought for slaughter: A public health risk
    Nicholas Dodman, Nicolas Blondeau, Ann M. Marini

    Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs - prohibited as well Phenylbutazone, known as "bute," is a veterinary drug only label-approved by the Food & Drug Administration for use by veterinarians in dogs and horses. It has been associated with debilitating conditions in humans and it is absolutely not permitted for use in food-producing animals. USDA/FSIS has conducted a special project to for this drug in selected bovine slaughter plants under federal inspection. An earlier pilot project by FSIS found traces less than 3% of the livestock selected for testing, sufficient cause for this special project. There is no tolerance for this drug in food-producing livestock, and they and their by-products are condemned when it is detected. Dairy producers must not use this drug in food-producing livestock and if it is found, those producers will be subject to FDA investigation and possible prosecution.

    Horse Owner Survey Shows NSAID Use Trends
    by: Edited Press Release
    April 30 2009, Article # 14073

    In a recent survey, 96% of respondents said they used nonsteroidal
    anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to control the joint pain and
    inflammation in horses, and 82% administer them without always
    consulting their veterinarian. More than 1,400 horse owners and trainers
    were surveyed to better understand attitudes toward NSAIDs, in a project
    sponsored by Merial, the maker of Equioxx (firocoxib).

    99 percent of horses that started in California last year raced on bute, according to Daily Racing Form. Bute is banned in the United States and Canada for horses intended for the food chain. That’s a permanent ban.
    Are horses used to make pet food?
    Horses are not raised for food in the United States so they are not generally used in commercial pet foods.

    Nonsteroidal Medication (NSAID’s)

    Phenylbutazone (Bute), flunixin meglamine (Banamine), and ketoprofen (Ketofen) are the most common NSAID’s used in horses while aspirin and ibuprofen are the most commonly used NSAID’s in humans. These are very effective in eliminating discomfort and are usually the first line of therapy in minor musculoskeletal pain.


    The systemic NSAID group includes phenylbutazone (Butazolidin) and flunixin meglumine (Banamine), which are 2 of the most widely prescribed drugs in equine medicine.

    Volume 25, Issue 3, Pages 98-102 (March 2005)
    Dr Anthony Blikslager, DVM, PhD, DACVS (Associate Professor)a, Dr Sam Jones, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Associate Professor)b