Horse Slaughterhouse: USDA Opens Path for Horsemeat


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Horse—It’s What’s for Dinner.

Is this the new trendy food item? Despite the fact that the UK was recently up in arms after it was discovered that some varieties of microwavable meals contained horsemeat, other countries are comfortable with the idea. Chefs in Paris have been putting it back on the menu in recent years.

And horse-meat could be on its way to American tables.

The USDA has just given approval for a New Mexico plant owned by Valley Meat Co. to slaughter horses for meat (the plant still has to undergo on-site inspection before it can sell the product). Similar applications have been made by plants in Missouri and Iowa.

Congress banned the domestic slaughter of horses in 2006, but the product is now again available to export. At present, approximately 130,000 horses per year are shipped abroad for slaughter (primarily to Mexico and Canada). The 2006 law currently at odds with the New Mexico plant’s “grant of inspection” (which had pulled funding for USDA inspections of horse plants, but had not outright forbidden horse slaughter) expired in 2011. If Valley Meat, and the companies following suit, are granted the right to slaughter domestically, export-for-slaughter could be expected to decline.

Since horses are not raised as food animals in the US, they are often given drugs that are banned for other livestock, making their food use (for humans or animals) questionable. Even so, this has not prevented export of horse meat in the past. Horse meat is sold for human consumption in many countries, including Mexico, China, and Russia. The world’s top three horse meat producing countries are China (1,700,000 metric tons), Mexico (626,000 metric tons), and Kazakhstan (340,000 metric tons). Mongolia, Argentina, Italy, Brazil, and Kyrgyzstan round out the top eight.

Currently, horse meat costs less than 25% of what beef costs.

And, just for cocktail party conversation: Western biases against the consumption of horse meat might stem from Pope Gregory III's fight against the ritual consumption of horse in pagan practice in the early eighth century.