Hungry for horse

Americans don’t eat them, but other people do

Photo By Tom Angel

Americans may have a cultural bias against eating horsemeat, but in many countries around the world the flesh of horses is consumed as both a staple and a delicacy. The Japanese prepare it raw as basashi, a sort of horsemeat sashimi. Italians have been known to make sausage out of the sweet, red-orange meat, as do people from Kazakhstan, Norway and several other countries. There are even recipes for horsemeat fajitas available on the Internet.

The most voracious horse consumers in the world are in Belgium and France, where horsemeat is considered an alternative to beef, one that is leaner, tastier and higher in both protein and iron. Traditional French fries are fried in horse fat, and in both Belgium and France butcher shops can be found that specialize only in so-called Chevaline. The English mad cow crisis is also either credited or blamed (depending on your point of view) for spreading the practice to other European countries and for bolstering demand in places where it was already accepted.

Those countries have their own horses, but not nearly as many as we have, which is why, in the 1980s, Belgian horsemeat suppliers began buying aging slaughterhouses in the United States and using them to process American horses into food. Those include Beltex in Fort Worth, Texas; Dallas Crown in Kaufman, Texas; and Cavel in DeKalb, Ill. The Cavel plant burned down in 2002 but is currently being rebuilt. A federal lawsuit is currently pending against the Texas facilities, which are alleged to have been slaughtering horses in violation of Texas state law.

At the two remaining facilities that slaughter horses in the U.S., both of them Belgian-owned, more than 50,000 horses are butchered each year. While most of the horses processed in those facilities are ground up and frozen into bricks to feed carnivores in zoos, the prime cuts are sent by air to hungry foreigners.

Aside from repulsing many Americans who think of horses more as friends than food, the two Texas horse slaughter facilities have also been accused of trading in stolen horses, using inhumane slaughter techniques and creating a situation where horses bound for slaughter are ill-fed or mistreated along the way.

Most of the American horses that end up in Belgian soup bowls are bought at auction by so-called “killer buyers,” who bid on horses then resell them at about $1 per pound to the slaughterhouses. Humane groups say many killer buyers don’t adequately feed or water their animals and transport them for hundreds of miles in hot, crowded trailers because they know the horses are only going to die a horrible death anyway.
—Josh Indar