Monday, 8 February 2010
Horse trading over meat
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.