From the archives: Horse meat—it’s like eating your dog!

Or as fans say, like eating cotton candy


Horrors, it’s like eating your dog!
Originally published on July 9, 2009

Much like nibbling on seal, tucking into a tenderloin of horse meat divides diners: some appreciate its delicate taste and others are disgusted at the thought. Cute little lambs and bunny rabbits may induce squeamishness, but the question of chomping on cheval has long divided Canada’s carnivores into two solitudes. There’s a minority of typically francophone Quebecers who see horse as a delicious source of protein. In Montreal, butcher shops such as the Boucherie Chevaline Prince are named and known for their fine cuts of black beauty. And then, keeping pace with English-speakers the world over, there are those who believe it’s taboo. In fact, horse is conflict-ridden wherever you look: considered exotica in Japan, it’s prohibited for Muslims and Jews and was once banned by a pope.

But lately, this controversial flesh, with the added bonus of a good health profile, a distinctly sweet taste and reasonable price tag, is becoming a trendy feature in top restaurants. Grant van Gameren, chef of the Black Hoof and a young wizard with charcuterie whose regulars include Toronto’s top toques, is an unapologetic fan. “I call horsemeat cotton candy,” he says. “It melts in the mouth.” He lists at least three horsemeat dishes on his brief menu of mostly meaty items. There’s a pâté, bresaola—a dry-cured salami—and a raw tenderloin sandwich, seasoned with olive oil and salt and served with a side of hot sauce. “It’s a mellow meat, not gamey at all, and it doesn’t need all that seasoning,” he says.

At the tony Toronto eatery Pangaea, chef Martin Kouprie added horse to his menu both as a pan-seared tenderloin, served with Saskatoon berries, and as tartare. (Horsemeat was the original tartare in France, not beef.) “From a health standpoint, it has everything you want: all the flavour without the fat.” He offered samples of the tartare. “Everybody loved it, but I wouldn’t tell them what it was until after they had tasted it. Some were shocked. A lot of people have horses as pets, so it’s like eating your dog.”

Yet horsemeat is a distinctly Canadian business, especially now that it is illegal as a commercial product in the U.S. (You can raise it there for your own consumption but in 2007, the last horsemeat abattoir was closed.) Most of the meat Canada exports goes to high-demand countries like Belgium and France. (In 2006, our second-biggest agricultural trade export to France after crustaceans was horsemeat, at a value of $26.7 million.)

Kouprie sees two big drawbacks in getting horsemeat accepted here. “First, there’s no other name for it, like beef or pork. It’s just plain horse.” But there’s another issue. Adventurous eaters who might take a risk on something like horse would like to know where it comes from. But it’s hard to know the source of the meat. That’s because horses generally enter the food chain not from farms, like pigs or other livestock, but when they are no longer wanted: racehorses no longer winning, workhorses too old to pull their weight. Chefs get the meat from companies such as La Ferme Black River Game Farm in Pfefferlaw, Ont., which in turn get it from slaughterhouses. “Horse is more of a commodity,” explains La Ferme owner Elaine Atlin.

Worse, the industry is proving notorious for bad news. The CBC produced a shocking investigation last year about horse-slaughter practices at a Canadian company, and a recent article from Canadian Press circulated about sick and abused animals from the U.S. being auctioned to so-called “kill buyers” who then sold them to slaughterhouses such as Viandes Richelieu in Quebec. One American breeder was charged with animal cruelty. These issues are part of why the U.S. shuttered its slaughtering facilities, though in reality the country remains a major exporter of the animals.

On the other hand, a growing movement, supported by the American Association of Veterinary Medicine, is advocating for selling the animals into slaughter rather than leaving them living and unwanted. And some argue it’s wasteful not to eat a perfectly good source of protein, especially given the environmental costs of raising livestock.

Van Gameren is in favour of “repurposing” horse as food, but he, like Kouprie, wants more information about the source. “I don’t have that one-to-one connection, like I do with my foie gras supplier, Aux Champs Elysees. I went to their farm and they educated me about what they do and how they do it. I wish I could do that with horsemeat. We all need to know more, and that means the public too.”


From the archives: Horse meat—it’s like eating your dog!

  1. Let me first to say.. Horse slaughter is only illegal in a handful of states. Horse slaugher was banned by the acting states NOT the Federal level as we still have our national bills pending. The word unwanted horse is NOT true it is a profitable commodity and by the pound.

    Just because a killer bought the horse doesnt make it unwanted. These killers compete against responsible people at auctions the word Unwanted only exist to promote and protect there abusive and neglective business.

    The word livestock protects these people and they also recieve tax breaks because of operating as a business. Otherwise Pet owners consider a pleasure are taxed. These were foreign owned plants in the US that paid no Gross income tax nor export taxes they promoted illegals.The SouthWestern Cattle Raisers Association were getting $3.00 per head slaughtered in Texas.

    Oh its not the American Association of Veterinary Medicine its the American Veterinary Medicial Association (AVMA) Yet they took an Oath to protect the animals and have failed by allowing the abuse and neglec to carry on at auctions , Feedlotts and Transportation thru double deckers.

  2. I'm an avid meat eater, and come from a long line of farmers and butchers yet I find the thought of eating horse meat nauseating. These animals are not coming from pastures like cattle, where they are essentially left on their own until it's time to ship them. These are PMU mares and foals, dressage, race, NY carriage horses, pregnant mares, blind, injured, lame, terrified animals. They are disposed of at local auctions, purchased by kill buyers, with no history of medications given, then run through a kill line. The entire process from auction, to shipping, to the feedlot then slaughter, all horrific. Horse meat eaters should educate themselves a little more on the industry. Maybe head to Kitchener,Ontario on Tuesdays to see a kill auction in action so you know who you're eating. Here's a little sample from this weeks auction of who may have ended up on your plate:
    Reg Clyde stud proven nice!! Papers 20cent meat
    Aged stdbd mare :-( 15centbmeat
    4yr stndbd mare 26 cents meat
    Stdbd 10cents meat
    Stdbd fit 20cents meat
    Nice Belgian 15 cents meat
    Tall stdbd lame 17 cents meat
    Sound dk bay mare tb? 31cents meat
    Nice solid mare in foal? 34cents meat
    9 yr TBmare with papers evented/dressage nice! 31cent- meat

    Prices quoted are per pound.. on the hoof of course.

    These animals were used, then thrown away. The ultimate betrayal.

    • you should try watching food inc. that is nauseating.

    • Good point about the meds in their system. I was educated recently to this fact. Example: I regularly give my horse Bute for arthritis and founder pain, not often but regularly. I was told this never get out of their systems. Even if it does — no telling how recently that auction horse had a dose unless test. Really think anyone does that? The farrier I used to use, always injected ACE before he went to work. Also doesn’t clear the system quickly. You really don’t want either drug in your meat people!

  3. I doubt if this horsemeat was shipped from China, these chefs, butchers and wholesalers would sell it or use it, even if it was for free. While this meat was processed in Canada, its origins are probably not too far off from what you would get if China started exporting horsemeat.

    Rendering animal carcasses and by products is a billion dollar industry.. the horse meat industry is not as lucrative, but it serves the same purpose.. to get rid of waste. Too expensive to burn and too expensive to bury, as well as burying all that toxic material….Agriculture Canada has cleared these horses to be killed and exported for human consumption.

    Beef cattle and other livestock have strict regulations for being raised for slaughter here in Canada. These are mainly US horses to begin with – tell me there isn't a huge loophole here somewhere.

    Chef Van Gameren should attend an auction himself. Seeing all the broken down, old, injured, sick, horses with open wounds and infections, tumors, snotty noses etc.. not to mention all the drugs they've had over a lifetime in their systems.. should make him reconsider putting it on the menu.

  4. Hmmm. EU located in Brussels.. American horses full of bute, banomine, worm meds, vaccincations…all non healthy medications that are not safe for human consumption in America but the EU condones it with American horse meat. Personally, I wouldn't eat horse meat if there was no other meat available. I value my own health over and above eating a meat that is not fit for human consumption. I guess big business rules the world and can feed the people whatever they want…. and the people will eat it as long as it's called a delicacy… EWWWWWWW, makes me sick to even think about it.

  5. Hope they enjoy eating their drugged, tumored, sick w disease, rotting horsemeat.
    Hope they ALL get sick!

  6. I feel it is wrong to use horse meat for 2 reasons.

    One, because a horse is a companion animal- like a dog to many people.
    And two, all the drugs and products used to worm horses and treat horses, have warnings on the labels that the products are NOT to be used on any livestock for humans to eat.
    I realize Canada and Mexico slaughter horses and sells the meat overseas…however things like steriods, wormers, Bute and all the many other drugs commenly used on horses are dangerous to people.
    So do not eat your companion animals..or you could have some nasty Karma in your future.. and you'll deserve what you get..

  7. Do any of you really think that the animals that end up at slaughterhouses have received treatment like deworming? The withdrawal times are fairly short and people don't say, oh, i am going to deworm my horse today and send it to slaughter tomorrow..The animals undergo inspection before slaughter, just like cattle and hogs, so there are not "open sores and infections" . Every bit of research into contaminants in the horse carcasses has shown levels as low as any protein source. What would you have the world do with all the unwanted horses? Consider the landfill space they would need and the cost of burying them or the issue of incinerating them. More than 1 billion people hungry in this world and you want to just dispose of a high quality protein? You don't have to want to eat it, just don't try to stop others.

    • A lot of the horses are nicely shod – they were treated by a farrier within weeks of transport to slaughter, so why wouldn't they have been treated with meds?

      And they don't undergo inspection. Watch the videos posted by the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition.

      The billion starving people will never have access to horsemeat. It is marked up and sold as a delicacy, not mass produced like rice and chicken.

  8. i totally disagree with pamela cuthbert's article. i believe a person has no business owning a horse unless they can afford to have them humanely euthanized by a vet . you have to look at the big picture of horse ownership. a large percentage of horsemeat comes from the sale of pmu foals (who are weaned too young at 3 months – 'the foals of august') and mares when they can no longer get in foal. worst of all, wyeth ayerst, manufacturer of premarin, cuts off pmu producers who try to sell their mare and foals to rescue groups. they don't want these horses or foals to be rescued; just slaughtered, pamela cuthbert should educates herself and watch youtube videos of horses slaughter. she should also read articles by rescue groups who are banned from auctions, while the horse killers get the front row . also, i wonder if this article was planted by an invisible source, such as wyeth ayerst or horsemeat prducers, hoping to increase their market in canada. i hope people who eat horse meat choke on it, i dare this letter and the others above to printed in maclean's magazine.

    • Lorraine, a bullet in the brain is just as humane if not more so than potassium sulfate injected into a vein.

  9. i say if it has 4 feet it's good to eat!

  10. I'd check who is selling it. as there are those who will try selling anything. Ate horsemeat at a family Barbeque with lots of onions, tomatoes and a fresh salad! tasted great. I ate dog meat in China, it tasted horrible!

  11. I love seal meat, rabbit soup and roasted duck, and a nice big moose steak.

  12. Horse meat is as good or better than beef or pork. I ate it several times in France and found it very good. It also has less fat and is considered to be a healthier meat than beef, and especially pork.

  13. what is current prices of canadian horse flesh…I ask this question to buy out horses and save some..not to kill them…pls contact with facts and figures.

  14. It is the Will of the People to BAN U.S. HORSE SLAUGHTER for foriegn profit at the U.S. TAXPAYERS’ EXPENSE!  I am one of the 99% who oppose U.S. HORSE SLAUGHTER.

  15. horses are here a an workanimal and to eat…..not a pet…and by the way dog tastes good too.

  16. What about all the pregnant mares they slaughter, No this is just disgusting because of an ex Texas politicians greed who joined with wallis

  17. She should have to put a warning lable on it, hazerdous to health,, but she is a greedy liar and cares not how many lives it may damages just as long as her banrupt pocket gets a nickle and then the foreign entity is going to kick her to the curb.

  18. She filed bankruptcy and someone is dumb enough to believe this is not a scam, better watch your money, sue cant be trusted.