Sustainability Has Nothing to Do With U.S. Horsemeat

Horsemeat may be emerging Stateside as an “it” food, but it's raising disturbing questions about animal cruelty and the meat’s safety.
Horses aren't bred for food, nor should they be. (Photo: Martin Barraud/Getty Images)
Oct 21, 2012· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Celebrated New York chef Hugue Dufour, who has a cult following among East Coast foodies, is often credited with ushering in a burgeoning culinary trend― horsemeat. reports that though the sale of horsemeat is currently illegal in the U.S., Dufour made it the star ingredient in grilled cheese sandwiches he served at a Brooklyn food festival last year. The reception it received was reportedly so enthusiastic the chef announced he would include the equine meat in his new restaurant’s regular menu. And that’s when Dufour’s world went south― he was besieged by people incensed that he would promote horse slaughter and the bad publicity forced him to cancel his plans.

Since then, the incident has sparked a disturbing debate about the inhumane practices surrounding the meat and its questionable health. If selling horsemeat is illegal, how can we even be sure what’s in it and how does it affect people who eat it?

According to, many of the American horses that are sent to slaughter are overbred cast-offs from the U.S racing industry, and though no American horse is bred to be eaten, it’s the racing horses especially that pose the most dangerous health risk to humans.

The New York Times reports that racing horses are notoriously over-drugged. They're trained to win, and that almost always guarantees a lifetime doping schedule of dozens of drugs including steroids, dewormers, anti-inflammatories, anti-bleeding medications, and snake venom to deaden the nerves in the animals’ joints.

The worst however, may not even the snake venom, if you can believe that. Slate reports it’s the “bute,” otherwise known as phenylbutazone, a carcinogenic pain medication regularly administered to race horses, and linked to some freakish health problems in humans, including bone marrow and liver deterioration.

Food and Chemical Toxicology characterized the drug's side effects as producing “lethal idiosyncratic adverse effects in humans.”

Because the last U.S.-based slaughterhouse was forcibly closed in 2007, horses sent to slaughter are actually shipped up away, either to houses in Canada or Mexico, where there is no USDA inspection of the meat they produce.

Opponents of the USDA may say that the agency isn't effectual anyway, often too bogged down in bureaucracy to enforce healthy guidelines. Even if you believe that, foreign-based slaughterhouses don't necessarily offer any checks and balances to ensure the health of meat they produce, and illegally transport into the U.S., making the system just as troublemsome. In fact, it’s actually still worse because when the USDA makes a mistake, Americans have some recourse. When an anonymous slaughterhouse illegally imports tainted horsemeat, and there's no way to trace where it came from, good luck identifying its origins, let alone stopping the spread of whatever outbreak it might have ignited.

Anyone with computer access saw the spread of all sorts of bacterium through the U.S. food supply this summer- and all those recalls focused on vegetable-based foods in tightly regulated environments. Can you imagine the health implications of uninspected horsemeat from anonymous kill houses?

Proponents of horsemeat as food say that other countries eat the meat regularly. That's true, but unlike those countries, the U.S. has no industry that prepares the meat for human consumption. And our kill methods are, according to The Humane Society, unnecessarily painful and violent.

It comes down to this: does the practice of eating horsemeat create another U.S. industry where cruelty, waste, and dangerous health complications are byproducts of commerce? Yes. Isn’t that a mirror of every other major factory farm meat sold in the U.S.? Yes. So why would we want to compound that?

Have you ever eaten horsemeat? Would you ever try it in this country where it's most likely sourced from racehorses? Let us know what you think in the Comments.