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3 Primary Reasons Why We Don’t Eat Horse Meat?

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Eating horse meat never crossed my mind as a kid, even though I’ve always lived around horses. Now that I think about it, what stops us from eating horse meat since most Americans aren’t vegans?

We don’t eat horse meat because of horses’ long-standing cultural and historical significance. Horse meat isn’t regulated or legalized by the US government either, so there’s no guarantee it’s safe for human consumption, and most people see horses as pets and taboo to eat. 

The laws regarding eating horses aren’t clear. For instance, can you legally slaughter and eat your horse? Many people profit from exporting horses to slaughterhouses abroad. Also, is eating horse meat ethical, and why did Americans stop eating horses? Let’s learn more below.

Picture of horses in a field,

The law and horse meat for human consumption in the U.S.

You might’ve wondered if it’s possible or legal to eat horse meat in the United States. Growing up in the US, I’ve eaten and know people who’ve tried many different kinds of animals like rabbits, squirrels, and even raccoons. However, I’ve never known anyone who ate horse meat.

It’s not illegal to eat horse meat in the United States. However, it is illegal to sell a horse for commercial human consumption. Though no federal laws ban the consumption of horse meat, some states have explicit laws prohibiting the sale or slaughter of horses intended for human consumption.

Horse meat wasn’t always wholly illegal in the US. Until 2005, the Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) inspected and regulated horse meat from slaughterhouses. (The FSIS is an extension of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The battle over horse meat inspection.

In 2005, animal rights activists raised concerns regarding the sale of horse meat, so the government made the inspection of horses a paid service.

However, it didn’t stop there, and soon the FSIS was prohibited from spending funds to perform inspections on horses intended for human food.

Since meat not regulated by the FSIS/USDA is illegal to sell because it could be degraded, there’s no market for selling horse meat in the US, thus no way to make money selling horses for consumption.

The USDA has also banned the import of horse meat from foreign countries. However, there’s an active business selling horse meat in Canada and Mexico. In fact, many horses in the US are regularly shipped to other countries for slaughter.

Picture of horses in a field.

States have their own laws governing horse meat.

While selling horse meat is a no-go, the slaughtering of horses for their meat isn’t technically illegal in many states. California has strict laws against any activities related to horse slaughter. Other states like New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Oklahoma also prohibit slaughtering a horse.

I should point out that “horse slaughter” is not the same as euthanizing horses, which is generally considered a humane and legal practice under certain circumstances.

The shutdown of the last remaining horse slaughterhouses.

By 2007, the last three horse slaughterhouses in the US shut down. Two of these were in Texas, and one was in Illinois. Due to this, buying horse meat or selling it at a public restaurant became almost impossible.

Debates are often brought up in horse communities if the government should make horse meat legal. There have been frequent attempts to pass bills to regulate the sale or slaughter of horses, but there aren’t enough votes in Congress yet.

Supporters argue that since eating horses is widely accepted outside the US, American owners denied the right to slaughter or sell horses usually export unwanted equines to Mexican slaughterhouses with cruel environments–unlike when Americans did the job themselves (often under USDA supervision). 

In contrast, there has been a constant struggle by animal rights activists to ban the export of horses that might be intended for slaughter. Still, given the complexity of the case and potential economic losses, no such law has yet been announced.

Regardless of whether or not horse slaughter ever becomes legal in the US, you are legally free to slaughter and consume horse meat for personal use. You can even serve it to your guests as long as you don’t make any profit from it.

Picture of a two year old horse in training

3 primary reasons we don’t eat horse meat

Pretty much every horse owner I’ve talked to considers eating horse meat a taboo. Even outside the horse community, the general public isn’t prepared to eat meals made with horse meat. So, what led the US population to build such sentiments?

The primary reason horse meat is taboo is because horses are considered valuable pets and culturally respected animals. Besides, people fear horse meat might be infected with harmful drugs. Some Christian schools of thought also discourage eating horses.

Picture of horses in a pasture

Horses are part of our heritage in the US.

Horses are part of our heritage in the US, and we owe a lot to them. They have been used for expanding the West, working farms, entertainment, and companionship throughout history. The bond between man and horse makes it challenging to slaughter it for food.

Horses are considered close friends with their owners as dogs can be-you may be able to give up your best friend to a good home but never sell them to be turned into a hamburger. This relationship is what makes Americans so passionate about not eating horses.

In the US, horses have been a part of our daily lives for over two centuries and are the foundation of Western riding. They are regarded as friendly companions and treated to high ethical standards. In pop culture, horses contribute to entertainment themes, fiction, and education.

Because of this, it’s practically inconceivable that people would view horses as something to fill their appetite with. Just like how eating a dog or cat would feel, eating horses is seen as grossly inappropriate by most people.

Chart comparing the nutrients in beef, pork and horse meat.
Raw Meat Comparison

Horse meat may be infected with harmful drugs.

Many drugs are administered over a horse’s lifetime that you cannot legally give to animals raised for human consumption. Horses receive dewormer medication, antibiotics, and diuretics, making their meat dangerous for humans to eat.

Ex-racehorses likely have the most unsafe drugs in their system, but other horses also regularly take harmful drugs to increase performance for sports competitions or working purposes.

Consequently, there are also general concerns regarding which farm or country the horse meat comes from, how it was produced, how owners treated their horses, and whether or not the meat has harmful chemicals in it.

Horse meat that isn’t approved by a reliable agency (like the USDA) might be contaminated by any number of drugs that an owner gave the horse throughout its lifetime. These drugs can be unsafe and even fatal if consumed by humans.

Since there is no federally-approved method to regulate horse meat, there’s a good chance that any horse meat you come upon in the US is bad for you.

Horses’ spiritual role in society

Horses are some of the most incredibly symbolized animals in history and culture. They’ve played crucial roles in our social development, art, literature, and sports for more than five thousand years. They also occupy a unique position in most religions and spirituality.

Furthermore, in Christianity and many other religions, eating horses is considered sacrilegious. For instance, in 732 ACE, Pope Gregory III declared eating horses an irredeemable pagan practice. The belief caught on and still affects the views of many people today.

Picture of white horses in a field.

Could wild horses be a food source?

To give an example of the taboo against eating horse meat, overpopulation is the greatest threat to wild horses. The containment and management measures are often inhumane and brutal to the horses. Yet, no one wants to use these animals as a food source.

People have suggested legalizing euthanasia or adding horsemeat to the American menu, but public opinion remains firmly opposed. Is the answer educating the public on the benefits of horse meat, or are the negative connotations associated with eating horse meat too ingrained in our society?

What horse meat tastes like?

Horse meat is usually described as a cross between venison and beef. It tastes a little sweet and has a pleasant touch of gaminess. It’s leaner than beef and generally tender. Like most animals, meat from younger horses is light pink, while meat from senior horses is darker and reddish.

Horse meat is a healthy source of nutrition like proteins and certain minerals and vitamins. Compared to beef, it has a similar level of proteins, lower levels of fats, cholesterol, and calories, and more omega-3 fatty acid content.

During World Wars I and II, when beef prices soared, people turned to horse meat as a cheaper alternative. However, the practice was publicly frowned upon, and the horse meat was often fraudulently mixed with other products.

Picture of the exterior of a downtown McDonalds restaurant,

Does McDonald’s use horse meat?

Buying fast food always comes with its risks. I frequently eat at McDonald’s and was recently told they use horse meat in their hamburgers. Given past scandals in the food industry, is it safe to trust McDonald’s?

McDonald’s states they don’t use horse meat in any of their products. In the US, their ingredients are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and there aren’t any recorded instances of horse meat found in McDonald’s food.

In 2013, a European food scandal shook the market when customers learned popular food companies were adding unregulated horse meat to what were supposed to be beef burgers. Though people became more cautious of what the food industry sells, McDonald’s was never proven to use horse meat in its products.

McDonald’s promises that its patties are made of 100% beef and free from preservatives or fillers. And being the largest fast-food company globally, its standards are regularly tested for efficacy and food quality.

Chart showing the amount of horse meat processed by the 5 top horse meat producing countries.

What country eats horse meat? Which one eats the most?

Horse meat may not be a thing in the US, but it is very much savored in other countries worldwide. In fact, the first domesticated horses, more than 5,000 years ago, were supposedly a source of food for the natives.

Horse meat is popular in many countries like Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Japan, China, Switzerland, Germany, Mexico, Indonesia, Poland, and Iceland. In other parts of the world, like Sweden, Canada, Italy, and Russia, people have mixed feelings about eating horse meat, and the legal standards vary.

Raising horses for slaughter is a mainstream business in many countries. One estimate states that almost five million horses are slaughtered each year for meat consumption throughout the world. Nearly half of the global horse meat is produced in Asia, and about 25% is produced in the Americas (mostly from Mexico)

China produces and eats the most horse meat in the world. A 2018 figure put the number of horses slaughtered in China at 1.6 million, and the total amount of horse meat produced was approximately 220,100 US tons.

However, it’s worth noting that although horse dishes are famous in certain Chinese regions, a lot of subcultures consider horse meat unhealthy and unappetizing food.

The idea of eating horse meat may be foreign and questionable to many people, but it’s actually an acquired taste with benefits that are hard to ignore. Horse meat has been shown in studies by scientists from around the world as being high in protein which can help improve your health.

Horse meat is typically not looked upon favorably in most regions of the US, UK, Australia, Brazil, Ireland, and religiously active societies like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and parts of Asia.

But it is considered a delicacy and often a staple food in other countries of the world. And during Ghengis Khan’s reign, warriors often relied on horse meat during long excursions when food sources were scarce.

horselayingdown edited

What are dead horses used for?

I’ve grown up hearing the phrase “dead horses” are sent to the glue factory.” Is this a fact or just a rumor? What are dead horses used for instead?

Dead horses are commercially used to prepare glue as horses’ tendons, hooves, and bones are rich in collagen. Though this practice is still found throughout the world, animal glue has been mostly taken over by synthetic adhesives.

Collagen, which is a simple form of gelatin, is a crucial ingredient in glues. It is naturally found in the connective tissues of mammals. Since horses and other cattle can provide large amounts of collagen, they’re the obvious choice for raw material when producing animal glue.

However, you shouldn’t generally have to worry about horse or animal remains in glue-based products. Horse glue is fairly outdated – it takes longer to set, and only some companies use it in specific areas like woodworking, bookbinding, mending antique objects, or pipe organs.

Dead horses are also composted. Composting is a natural process where bacteria break down animal carcasses to prepare a soil amendment. While it may seem more complicated than just burying the horse or throwing them into a vacant field, there are many benefits to doing so for yourself and your garden!

Composting a dead horse can be made even easier by hiring an expert to advise you. They will ensure that the process is done carefully and correctly, which means your composted animal carcasses are finally put into use!

Composting usually takes over three months, depending on the soil, size of the horse, temperature, and other factors. It’s an easy, low-cost, and environmentally-friendly alternative to other burial methods. The compost can effectively improve the soil fertility of your gardens and agricultural fields.

Below is a YouTube video addressing why we don’t eat cats, dogs, and horses.


Can you buy horse meat in the US?

You can’t buy horse meat for human consumption in the United States. One reason is that all meat sold to the public must be inspected by the USDA, and they have no horse meat inspectors.

Is it safe to eat horse meat?

Some people say that eating horse meat is safe, while others warn against it. So what should you do? Make up your own mind after doing your research. But whatever you decide, be sure to cook the meat properly so that you don’t get sick.

Is it legal to eat horse meat in the United States?

It is legal to eat horse meat in the United States, and some people do. However, horse meat can’t be sold for human consumption. So, you have to butcher your horse or have someone share theirs.