Horsemeat: Yay or neigh?


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Canadians are always looking for examples that prove that  we are  different from Americans but I haven’t heard too many people using Canada’s horsemeat industry to make this distinction.

The US no longer has a horsemeat industry; it closed several years ago amid accusations of cruelty and squeamishness about eating animals that are often thought of as pets. But the fact remains that horsemeat – or cheval as it’s called in French – is a popular meat choice in many cultures. In fact, it’s a $60 million industry here in Canada. Aside from a small domestic market in Quebec there is only a saddlebag of chefs in other provinces (including my husband Martin Kouprie here in Ontario) buying this homegrown food; most Canadian horsemeat is exported to France, Japan, Mexico, Italy and Switzerland.

If you’ve never had horsemeat, you might wonder: “Dana, why the heck would I bother? I have plenty of other stuff to eat.” And I’d answer: for the same reason you eat duck or moose – for variety!

If your interest is piqued, here’s what you need to know about the culinary aspects of horsemeat:
• It has a close, compact texture
• Colts are favoured as the most delicious
• It is sweeter flavoured, lighter and less fatty than beef
• It’s highly esteemed as a meat choice when making tartar
• It goes bad faster than other meats so it must be consumed when very fresh or frozen before use.

Still squeamish? That’s okay. This isn’t a food that everyone can like. But, if you’re curious but cautious, you’ll soon be able to ease into the idea of eating horsemeat by trying the mare’s milk cheese that Monforte Dairy will be producing in the future.


49 Responses to Horsemeat: Yay or neigh?

  1. Rosa says:

    Yes, here, in Switzerland, we get a lot of horsemeat from Canada… It tastes very fine, I must say! from time to time, I don’t mind eating that meat.



  2. I find this post really hard to respond to. I’m struggling to be rational, but gotta say, my first response was horror. I am too emotionally attached to these animals to consider them food.

    However, the idea of mare’s milk cheese is intriguing. Is this hypocritical of me?

    • MJ Wilson says:

      You might want to consider the animal used to get the milk, just like a cow, they’re constantly impregnated until they can’t produce anymore, at that time they will be sent to a filthy auction with disease all around, their immune system is compromised, injuries abound without treatment, they’re then beaten into double decker cattle trucks to low for them to stand normal, many fall and are trampled to death, without food and water for 40 hours is not uncommon, once at their final destination they’re inhumanely slaughtered and fed to unsuspecting humans. Their offspring like cows never receive their mothers milk, maybe once just enough to give them some of what they need to survive, they’re then pulled and brought up for veal or else knocked in the head and thrown in a gut pile. Please don’t support this new sick predatory business.

  3. Barb says:

    Absolutely not. Cannot, will not, etc. I live 30 miles from a horse slaughter plant that used to be in the wide open. They have since built burms and planted them with native grasses and shrubs so the holding pens are less visible. I have had some hard talks with myself about: is it really worse than what is done with cattle, hogs, chicken or sheep? Probably not but I just cannot.

  4. Amy says:

    Despite the cultura stigma (I have that penned right, right?), I would still like to try it. I’m certain that back in the day people did use to eat horse meat (in a way that is mentioned in your blog), just as offal used to be as popular as well during that generalized time period…
    With the above stated, I’m sure my answer is pretty much a give in…

  5. Sheryl Kirby says:

    Neigh, but with a caveat.

    I have no issue with the idea of eating horse meat itself, and would if I could be assured that it came from a processor where it was slaughtered in an appropriate manner.

    But the Canadian processing industry is no less cruel than the US system that was shut down. They are attempting to slaughter horses in the same manner (with the same equipment) they use for cows, and it just doesn’t work.

    Also, the horses being slaughtered in Canada often come from the US. They are not raised specifically for meat but can potentially be an animal that once was a child’s pet.

    I think if chefs really want to serve horse meat, they need to step up and put pressure on processors to ensure that the horses are being slaughtered humanely and appropriately, and that the animals they’re serving are traceable back to their original source – even if that is right back to the stables where little Susie and Black Beauty first learned to canter.

    • Erin says:

      “I think if chefs really want to serve horse meat, they need to step up and put pressure on processors to ensure that the horses are being slaughtered humanely and appropriately, and that the animals they’re serving are traceable back to their original source – even if that is right back to the stables where little Susie and Black Beauty first learned to canter”

      YES. As things stand now the system for slaughtering horses is NOT humane.

  6. Personally, I’ve never had it, but Hubby has. Sadly he doesn’t remember much about tasting it because it was served at the end of a very raucous night at the sushi bar.

    It might take a bit to try it, but I’m always up for adventure. Oddly, I find the idea of milking a mare more odd than eating a horse. Can’t say that I would do either regularly. And you’ll never get me to try a dog.

  7. danamccauley says:

    Sheryl, I agree totally with your comment. Horsemeat needs to be regated the same way game meat farms are governed.

  8. cheryl says:

    No can do.

    Have YOU eaten it?

  9. I had it a few times. It didn’t seem much different than beef, at least the way it was prepared.

  10. Morgan says:

    I guess I’m just not adventurous enough! I’ve had venison and lamb (and I didn’t really care for either) so I’m guessing I probably will not end up liking horse.

  11. Diva says:

    Mare’s milk cheese? Certainly. Cheval? Non, non and non.

  12. danamccauley says:

    Yes, I have had it as tartar. It was pretty tasty.

  13. Erin says:

    Something to consider: many of the horses that come from the US are full of dewormers (which specifically state “not for use for animals intended for human consumption” on packaging), medicines (e.g. phenylbutazone – causes kidney and liver failure in humans; Nolvasan – a known carcinogenic to humans), and if they are ex-racehorses, cocktails of hormones, steroids, and Lasix.

    These are not things you want to consume. Unlike the beef/pountry industry, the horse meat industry does not have protocols for testing the presence of these chemicals. I do not know there is any requirement in Canada that horses be held for X days to clear the chemicals (that can be cleared) from their systems.

    You are not eating free-range mustang when you eat horsemeat coming from the US.

  14. Martin Kouprie says:

    I first tried horse meat while working in Quebec and loved it for it’s fine texture and sweet flavour, I have been a fan of it ever since. It has been on my menu several times and it has been very well received.

    Aside, consider the fact that there aren’t any cases of salmonella directly attributed to consuming horse meat should be enough to convert the neigh sayers. No chlorine powder needed here.

  15. cheryl says:

    Hmm, Martin, as much as I appreciate your professional palate, the lack of chlorine powder and salmonella isn’t enough of an incentive for me to eat horse meat. My feet don’t have chlorine or salmonella, but I wouldn’t eat them either.

  16. danamccauley says:

    I think Erin’s and Sheryl’s points are enough to make me write a letter to whomever is in charge of how horsemeat is selected, handled and inspected. I’m going to do some research and get a name at CFIA that I’ll share with you guys.

    Here’s a link to a site called Horse Welfare Canada. I need to look into who they are and where they get their info but some of you may find it interesting reading in the meantime:

  17. Kris says:

    The fact that there have been no tracable cases of Salmomella in humans from eating horsemeat has way more to do with the fact that relatively few Canadians eat horsemeat compared to other types of meat, than any perceived inherent safety of horsemeat.

    Horses can carry Salmonella, just like other livestock and it can be a common cause of diarrhea and clinical disease in stressed horses. Stressed horses also shed Salmonella.
    I would not be feeling any sense of security that horsemeat is somehow “safer” than other meats, nor would I be eating it raw.

    fwiw I support a horse slaughter industry. There needs to be a means of dealing with unwanted horses. In the US where slaughter has been banned, there are now countless abandoned and neglected horses that are no longer wanted, useful. etc. I think that is more cruel than a regulated slaughter industry. I would personally never send one of my horses to slaughter but I think it needs to be an option available.

  18. Chester Pape says:

    I worked for a while in Switzerland, on my first day on the job we went to the company cafeteria for lunch, which was horsemeat entrecote and frites. I’ve also had it a couple times here. I will say that some of the suggestions about slaughtering practices that I recently read elsewhere have put it on my “no list” along with kosher slaughtered beef for the exact same reason but if I was reasonably certain of proper slaughter I’d remove it from the list.

  19. gabrielle says:

    what is so different between a pig,beef,deer, elk, rabbit or any other animal that we butcher and eat, and a horse.??all of them are beautiful animals . how about chickens and turkeys;goats and pet lambs?are they any less than a horse?to me it shows more respect for the animal if it gets butchered humanely and eaten with respect and gratefulness for the animal that gave its life to feed us.
    are we humans hypocritical or what ?

  20. Laura Houston says:

    To me it’s discusting, like you are eating kittens and puppies.

    No matter, I give my horse wormers that say on the package ‘do not use on food animals” Many of the horses you eat are given drugs like steriods, bute, ivermection. Then you kill them and eat them in the same week.

    Does Canada have any laws to protect people from tainted meat? You do understand drugs like steriods and the other common horse medications are very dangerous for you.

  21. Gale Mott says:

    I guess I can understand other countries/cultures eating horsemeat. I never could as I believe they are not livestock but family members or pets. BUT, I wonder if all of you that are eating this meat know where it comes from? Do you realize the monthly, sometimes daily, chemicals and insectacides these horses are given? There is no governing body for the horsemeat industry. These horses are almost always routinely given wormer(if they aren’t the horses are full of worms), steroids, antiinflamatories, and a myriad of other drugs you would NOT want in your own system. I hope the world wakes up soon and realizes these horses are NOT organically raised on fresh prairie grass.

  22. B Haney says:

    OMG.. you people need to get a life other then telling people what they can and can’t do.
    My horses are wormed.. yes.. once a year 6 months before any sale… If they go to slaughter then the wormier is out of there systems. Other then that nothing unless they are hurt. and even then there is a lay off time… in 3 months all med’s work there way out of a horses systems. Just like in a cow. or Pig.. You people need to stop your lies and stop making people out to be some kind of heartless killers just because you do not believe the same as they do.

    • Laura Houston says:

      well mr haney, you don’t worm your horse so do you understand how horses get worms? Almost daily worm larva and worm eggs and cysts, are eaten with grass. Migrate from the soil and manure your horse stands on. Then the meat of the horse is full of worm cysts and worm larva.

      You really want people to eat worm eggs and worm larva? you do realize a horse has twice the blood volume as a cow.. and that is why horsemeat spoils so fast.
      You need to educate yourself about all the drugs and learn about how horses get worms so very fast.

      so what if you want to eat wormey drug filled horse-meat. However, you should not be feeding other people- wormey drug filled horse-meat. It is not right to harm others.

    • MJ Wilson says:

      This is from a racing trainer, there are many other drugs than bute and de wormer.

      My sore racehorses used to get their knees, hocks and ankles injected with Celestone. I used to insist on Celestone and would even supply my own for the vet to put in. After having their joints injected, we could not race for 5 to 7 days. If urine or bloodtested if the horse wins or gets called to the spitbox it will show up and the trainer gets a fine and sometimes a suspension. If the horse won the race and pulled a positive for steroids…he gets taken back to last place.

      I am assistant to an orthopedic surgeon and we use the same Celestone I used on my horses. Celestone is better and longer lasting than Depo (which alot of vets use) because it is a liquid powder which disolves slowly over three months.

      Labels that say not to use their product on animals intended for slaughter don’t say it’s OK to slaughter them after a certain time. They say don’t use it period.

      Not to mention DMSO, Windstral(Hormone)…

  23. RB says:

    Plenty of horse meat that is consumed in Canada and abroad is from American horses! Many are bought at lowly auctions that are rampent with sickness,stress,etc…. Many are druged to pass off as being sound. There is no way to trace the origen of horses like our meat animals.
    The slaughter of these horses is pure greed and a one way ride to hell for the horses!
    Goverments should be ashamed saying horse meat is safe to eat,many have drugs in their tissue and no timeline when the drugs leave. For one Bute,it is banned in meat animals being it will cause cancer. It is the peoples choice but they should be informed about horse meat.

    See A wealth of info on the brutal trade of horse flesh.

  24. MJ Wilson says:

    Hope you all enjoy eating your (Per our FDA) tainted meat, full of cancer causing agents. Our USDA has been scamming you forever. Because our horses are (per our FDA, and now our USDA per their own handbook) place the horse in the companion animal category, they have no regulations for drugs because the horse isn’t supposed to be fed to humans here in the states, haha, what a bunch of dummies! Enjoy your tainted meat my friends. From a happy vegan!

  25. MJ Wilson says:

    From our US FDA;

    Thank you for sharing your concerns with us. We do not consider horses to be food animals.
    > All of the phenylbutazone products that are approved for uses in horse contain a warning on the label:
    > Not for use in animals intended for food purposes.
    > While USDA may classify them differently, for our purposes they are not considered food, thus manufacturers of drugs for horses are not required to submit residue depletion data (as is need for food animals) in their new animal drug applications. I would recommend that you contact USDA with your concerns.


    CVM Home Page

  26. danamccauley says:

    Robust conversation we have here – I love it! thanks for sharing your perspectives, sources and experiences.

    As I mentioned above in the comments, I’m working on a follow up post about how we can lobby the Canadian government to change the rules/screening of horses and make this branch of the food industry more like the one developed for raising commercial game meats.

  27. Reading all these comments has begged me to look into the regulating of hoursemeat in my industry. I will not be buying any more horsemeat until I can verify the origins of the animal and certify the way in which it was handled. As an industry, chefs like myself want accounability for all the ingredients that we are serving.

  28. LMatte says:

    In the EU they are advertised as wild and grass fed horses. In the US and Canada they are Racehorses, show horses, ranch hand horses and family pets.

  29. Martin, I must say that while I will never eat horsemeat because of an emotional connection to the animals, I admire your attitude. I hope readers realize this isn’t just a matter of a quick phone call.

    Many chefs care more for the menu than the source of their ingredients. Kudos to you for taking the time to re-examine your suppliers although it could well mean hours (perhaps over weeks) of work and altering the menu in the meantime. That speaks volumes to your integrity.

    Dana, you picked a winner.

  30. danamccauley says:

    LMatte, sadly, much of the horsemeat sold in the EU is coming from here so I’d love to see European’s challenge those advertisements.

    Char, I couldn’t agree with you more! MK is the best. : )

  31. Jennifer says:

    Here via Chronicle of the Horse forums…I still remember the day I finally looked closely at the label and realized that the ointment I’d been putting on my horse with my bare hands (and had been for years) was a human carcinogen known to cause ovarian cancer. That was just ONE chemical.

    I don’t object to eating horsemeat per se, but there is no way I would ever eat horsemeat that was not purpose-raised for human consumption. Which means anything coming out of a US auction is off the table.

  32. Alison George says:

    I used to live in southern Japan, where “Basashi” is considered a delicacy. The only opportunity I had to sample it, it was prepared in thin slices (like meat prepared for a Chinese Fondue). They were marinated in ginger and green onion, and it was eaten raw. I recall that it was delicious and delicate-tasting.

  33. So Sad! says:

    Over 100,000 horses are shipped from the US to CANADA a year to be slaughtered to send overseas. I the people that eat this meat only knew where it came from. There are no regulations in the US set up for horse meat. They are bought for next to nothing in all kinds of conditions, from injured to pregnant to old. Some are also horses that have be taken from people without permission. The horses are full of drugs that are “NOT TO BE USED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION”. There is no down time between the time they are purchased to the drugs can get out of their bodies. Usually they are slaughtered within a couple days. These horses are purchased at auctions and don’t have health certificates to go with them to CANADA. Many are sick with uncurable diseases. I don’t care how much you marinate it or cook it, it’s still there. The people that eat this meat overseas must be really hard up to eat this meat. If they want to eat it, they should raise their own to slaughter. Horses are not raised in the US for slaughter and none of them could pass a test to be used for meat. You better think twice before you take your next bite!!!

  34. danamccauley says:

    Hello readers,

    As an update, I’m interviewing an expert from the Canadian Govt. next week to find out what safegaurds and rules are in place and how they are enforced. I’ll be writing my follow up post to this one in the coming weeks after I’ve done thorough research and can give my readers the full and truthful details about this issue.

    In the meantime, feel free to continue to discuss this topic here. I’ll email each of you when my follow up piece is posted.


  35. danamccauley says:

    LMatte, I’ve just finished my research and the follow up will be posted on Monday morning.

    I’ll check out your link tomorrow. Thanks!

  36. […] piece about the Canadian horsemeat business. The impetus to write this article arose after I posted about the culinary aspects of horsemeat last month. I received many comments and questions that left me with no ready response;  it became […]

  37. gabrielle says:

    as if cows,pigs,sheep,poultry etc are free from drug residues…..

    and if not medicated,free from worms and or diseases….

    and how about mad cow disease…?????ever read the ingredient list in poultry feed? ever look at a veterinary catalog for livestock owners…antibiotics by the pound! visit your local feedstore and really,really look at what is on the shelves for you to buy.scary,huh?!

    if we home butcher an animal,we take care that it has not been medicated or fed anything that contains animal by-products.

    ever realize that pigs,cows,sheep,goats and poultry are infected with parasites,inside and out unless they are treated with wormers,insecticides,antibiotics etc…
    if people are that sensitive to either parasites or medicines,they should be vegetarians.and ingest traces of fertilizer,herbicides,insecticides,heavy metals and other poisons.

    as for fish:all fish caught in the usa now contains mercury in often dangerous comes down with the rain. the clouds catch the mercury from the smoke stacks of coal fired power plants.

    our food supply is tainted ,no matter where you get it from!

    so spare me the sob stories about medicine residues in horses,or parasites in horses.

    even deer meat and elk can be tainted with a form of mad cow disease…it might infect humans,who knows…i,ve seen very diseased deer and elk that hunters take anyway.and eat. most wild game animals are full of parasites…

    a grass fed horse,that is healthy and has not received any medication for a year or so is in my opinion as safe to eat as any commercially raised animal or nature raised game animal.

    bon appetit!

  38. Russell says:

    As a horse lover, behaviourist and owner, I would never entertain eating horsemeat. Here in the UK (I have no idea if it is the same in the US and Canada), with our passport system we have the option to say that our horses are not intended for human consumption and once this has been signed by one owner, it cannot be changed. It disgusts me the number of horses I have purchased that could so easily be slaughtered and subjected to such diplorable conditions. All of the horses on my yard are now certified NOT intended for slaughter and human consumption.

    Horses are actually very intelligent animals and are very responsive to sounds, smells and emotions. As soon as a horse enters a slaughterhouse it will know exactly what is going on due to the smell of blood… Horses also take a lot of time to adjust to new surroundings and will be extremely distressed when going through the process of slaughter.
    This is especially true of an ex child’s pony or horse as they will have been taken from someone that they trust and love, that they have formed a very very close bond with and all of a sudden be somewhere they do not know with horses they don’t know and no one to comfort them.

    Also, last year a friend of mine put her horse out on loan. It came time for the mare to come back to the yard and she was nowhere to be found. We tried to trace her through her passport and found that someone had told the passport agency the mare passed away. We then tried tracing her through her microchip and eventually found her in a slaughterhouse in Belgium. I have never seen such disgusting conditions and badly kept horses in all my life! The mare was safely returned home and is still suffering from the trauma and stress that she was subjected to.

    It’s all about welfare and the business of horsemeat does not provide acceptable treatment of the horses. If they absolutely HAVE to slaughter these beautiful animals, they should at least give them some dignity and proper, sanitary living and travelling conditions

  39. Fancy thinking that horse meat was only sold in France! Though mind you I do believe many of the Canadians are of French ancestry. There certainly doesn’t seem to be much demand for it in my home city of Leicester. After all, I’ve never known it to be sold at the Leicester Market or at any of Leicester’s superstores.

    I personally don’t wish to eat meat without a sufficient vegetarian diet to compensate. Obviously meat can be very tempting so I don’t wish to give up meat completely.

    Anyway, I am featured on the BBC website and anxious to bring my weblinks to everyone’s attention. Simply visit Google and search the web for Jeremy Keller BBC to access the details.

    Alternatively, to access the Website please try visiting Google and searching the web for any one of the following:-

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  40. Anon says:

    gabrielle you are crazy. Wild game such as deer or elk have a much more varied and nutritious diet than horses, roam free, and are easily healthier. This is reflected in their superior nutritional values, and any experienced hunter will recognize the possibility of tainted meat by the liver and other obvious signs.

    I have consumed elk my entire life and have not once gotten sick off of it. I am a healthy adult male now and coupled with regular workouts it has kept me lean and strong.

    I will agree that the horse industry “scare” is ridiculous and horses are a VERY good source of food if one is morally inclined to eat them, however please do not compare them to wild big game as quite frankly they don’t compare at all.

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