What's the Buzz
Buzzle.com
Vantressa Brown: Horse Meat?

Fighting to save France's horses from the dinner plate. For years, visitors to a country famed for its sophistication have been intrigued to see the plaster horse heads hanging over butcher shop doors. "I thought it meant they used horses to take their meat to market.

By Vantressa Brown, 4/27/2003

 
Article image

For years, visitors to a country famed for its sophistication have been intrigued to see the plaster horse heads hanging over butcher shop doors. "I thought it meant they used horses to take their meat to market. I had no idea it meant you should eat them!" shrieked one British tourist when she found out what the symbol stood for.

"France is famed for its culture and progressive thinking, so it's hard to understand how our horses can end up on a dinner plate," laments Fran«oise Le Villon, local representative of the French League for the Protection of the Horse. Le Villon isn't the only one to wax indignant about the fate of an animal most people see as a friend and companion, rather than a gastronomic speciality.

Sadly, meat phobias created by the recent mad cow and hoof-and-mouth crises mean the country's flesh eaters have begun to seek alternatives. In fact, worried equine protection leagues report that horsemeat sales rose 10 percent in 2001, with horse steak—for the first time ever—selling for more per kilo than beef.

"Over the last few months, our profits have soared 30 to 40 percent, and we expect to sell more than 50,000 tons of horse next year," boasts Michel Beaubois, president of the French Federation of the Hippophagique Butcher Shops.

Inevitably, with such a huge rise in consumption, meat sellers can't satisfy demand, and horse rustling is making a comeback, with unscrupulous thieves stealing family companions and making huge profits selling them for meat.

With 310,250 horses killed for the dinner table each year, France outstrips most of its hippophagic neighbors. Eighty percent of equines are imported, not just from other European countries, but from Argentina, Canada and the United States.

While most Americans are opposed to eating horsemeat, few people realize that the horsemeat industry in the United States rivals beef and pork in the quantity shipped abroad. This is according to Equine Advocates, a U.S. organization set up in 1996 to combat the problem. According to USDA figures, approximately 100,000 U.S.-bred horses are slaughtered in the country's three horse slaughter plants and then sent to countries like France.

Equine Advocates won a major victory in November 1998 when the state of California voted to make horse slaughter for human consumption illegal. Breeding, selling or transporting horses from the state for human consumption is also illegal now. But to be effective, other states must follow suit.

"Often, the animals are in such terrible condition that they have to be put down anyway," says Rolande Trolliet, a member of the group. Trolliet provides homes for slaughterhouse rescues and says she often feels isolated when it comes to taking action against dealers who mistreat animals. "There are just too many cases to deal with, and if a horse dealer has influential friends, there's almost nothing you can do about it," she admits.

Trolliet laments says that too many of her compatriots see horses as "hamburgers on legs." Says she, "The horse has been our partner across the centuries in the fields, in the mines and on the battlefields of Agincourt and Verdun. Surely he deserves a better end than this?"