Why Are Americans Squeamish About Horse Meat?


Mongolians love it. So do Bulgarians, Swiss, Belgians and French. But Americans -- no way. Eating horse meat is a culinary taboo that started early in our nation's history and continues today.

Food experts say it's a distaste that is part emotional and part economic: we love our horses and even if we didn't, we're a wealthy country that can afford to eat choicer cuts of meat.

In recent weeks, a scandal over the discovery of horse meat in packages of frozen French lasagna and in processed beef products in Ireland and England has rocked the European Union.

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Part of it is cultural; residents of the British Isles have a long detested the idea of eating horses, while the French have found it somewhat of a delicacy.

The second fear is the spectre of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, a brain-wasting disease that killed nearly 200 people and led to the slaughter of several million animals in the late 1980s.

While there's no evidence that BSE can move between species, there's a history of public mistrust in public health officials overseeing the EU's meat supply.

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On Thursday, three universities in Ireland announced that they had discovered traces of horsemeat in hamburgers served at campus eateries.

Here in the United States, Congress effectively banned horse meat consumption in 2006 by cutting funding for meat inspection services to slaughterhouses. At the time, three U.S. plants provided horse meat for export to Europe, Asia and Mexico.

The ban was lifted in 2011, but several current bills would reinstate the prohibition, according to a 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service.

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