Although horses are seen as an intelligent animal by many and a useful partner in getting work done in many areas around the world, there are many countries and households that also see horses as a source of animal protein. Although horse meat consumption is actually illegal in some countries, most notably the United States, it is a widely consumed product in other parts of the world and sometimes a primary part of a household’s diet.
Over 200,000 horses every year are slaughtered to create a meat supply in the European Union.
Horse Meat Consumption
The European Union is by far the largest consumer when it comes to horse meat. Not only do they produce the most of it in the world, but they are the largest importer of this animal protein as well. Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Uruguay all export horse meat to the EU in large quantities and even the United States, where consumption of this animal protein is illegal, has slaughterhouses that produce and export the meat to the world.
- China produces more horse meat than any other country in the world, creating nearly half of the world’s supply of this animal protein.
- The reason why it is considered a dangerous animal protein is that horses are often given a medicine called phenylbutazone [or “bute” for short] that is dangerous to humans.
- Horse meat contains lower fat content, sodium content, and has less cholesterol when compared to the typical beef product.
- Horse meat is eaten in many countries, including Mexico, Belgium, Canada, Chili, Spain, Iceland, France, Russia, Kazakhstan and many Eastern European, South American, South East Asian, and Eastern countries such as China and Japan.
If the nutritional content of horse meat is better than what most people typically eat, then why isn’t it more widely available and is considered illegal? It’s because the history of horse meat is difficult to trace because horses aren’t usually farmed as a protein livestock. Because there is no history of the animal, it’s hard to know if the animal had a disease that could be potentially life threatening, contain medicines that could harm humans, or be of sufficient quality to provide a safe diet. Although the animals are often considered intelligent, there is no denying the fact that if horse farming would start, it could produce healthier proteins for households worldwide.
Who Eats Horse Meat Right Now?
- In Japan, there is a dessert that is made from horse meat called Basashi.
- Russians ate more than 28,000 tons of horse meat in the last year alone.
- Italy eats almost the same exact amount of horsemeat every year as Russia does.
- Italy produces 50% of the horse meat that the European Union consumes every year.
- China produces more than 170 tons of horsemeat for export every year, sometimes reaching as high as 197 tons.
- In most countries that do eat horse meat on a regular basis, less than 7% of people in an October 2012 survey said that they do so often. Less than 20% said that they would eat it sometimes.
- Belgium imports more than 44 million pounds of horse meat per year and most of that comes from North America, making them the largest per capita consumer.
Even though horsemeat might be legally available in some countries and even socially acceptable to eat, the fact remains that most people just don’t eat it despite higher protein and less fat content in the meat. The largest surge of horsemeat consumption occurred last year when a scandal regarding the substitution of horsemeat for beef occurred in frozen products, causing people to try it for the first time. This small rush hasn’t resulted in more overall consumption and it hasn’t changed any laws where horses are illegal to consume as of yet.
The Future of Horsemeat
- Even though prices at the slaughterhouses are going up, overall consumption of this animal protein is going down over the last 8 years.
- Market demand for horse meat continues to be strong, even though most people actually believe they are eating the animal protein – which means that meat has to be going somewhere and into something.
- In Belgium and in the Netherlands, meat snacks that are low-cost items contain nearly 30% horsemeat, although the products aren’t advertised as such or packaged to promote the animal protein.
- 92% of horses in North America that are sent for slaughter are considered to be in “good” condition, which means that they could lead productive lives at that point.
- It is not uncommon for horse slaughterhouses to be out of compliance with environmental regulations, with the disposal of blood the most commonly noted violation.
- Russia has recently committed to spending RUB180 million to subsidize the production of local horse meat.
- By 2020, Russia expects to increase their horsemeat production capabilities by at least 50%.
The conversation about producing horse meat usually falls into two categories. The first is whether people should be eating these animals or not. Are they intelligent? Do they serve a better purpose than to produce steaks for the table? The second category is how the horses are treated during the slaughtering process and that is a valid point to make. In North America, for example, horses are often kept in 110F and above temperatures, treated poorly during the transportation process, and the actual slaughtering is not to the highest of standards because there is no local investment in the product. Why bother following health standards when someone will eat the animal protein half a world away?
- Ireland took 10 million burgers off of store shelves in 2013 because of horse DNA.
- Aldi and Tesco removed frozen pasta dishes with meat sauce because it found up to 60% horsemeat in some of their products.
- It was only last year  that EU officials agreed to begin testing for Bute in addition to testing for horse DNA in meat products.
Authentically farmed horse meat could be incredibly safe and nutritious when handled properly. The issue is that horse meat isn’t handled properly and is instead being substituted as a cheap alternative to beef without public knowledge. That is a problem which must be immediately rectified.