The news of beef burgers in several big supermarkets around the UK and in Ireland being contaminated with horse meat is all over the headlines today. It reminded me of this picture that I took in Brenham, Texas, last summer.
At the time, I was surprised to see it — I’d never heard of horsemeat being an issue in Texas. I knew from living in France and visiting other countries that people do eat horse but always thought of it as an issue of personal taste and social custom. When I researched the issue after returning to London, I found out that slaughtering horses had become a heated debate.
Slaughterhouses in Texas exported the meat to Asia and Europe and many Texans were against it, based either on the belief that the animals suffered unduly or that these creatures — because of our attachment to them as pets and companions — aren’t the kind of animal you should eat. It’s strongly tied to identity, as my picture shows: We aren’t the kind of people to eat horse.
In 2007, Texas slaughterhouses were shut down, and some activitists kept fighting the sale and transport of Texas horses to slaughterhouses in Mexico. But there are also some America politicians promoting horsemeat, as detailed in this Houston Post blog.
Of course, the issue for the beef burgers here is slightly different: something was in the burgers that shouldn’t have been and that wasn’t divulged to consumers. That has to be rectified.
But the stories highlight our discomfort both in the US and the UK about eating horses. We think of them as beautiful animals to ride, race and own. We still have the problem of a few unscrupulous owners who mistreat their animals. But whatever you do, the consensus seems, don’t put them on our plate.