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It's been in the news lately about horse meat being disguised as beef.

Is this really that serious?

Is horse meat unsafe? Or is it just taboo because horses are "cute"?

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Many people in the UK do consider horses as pets however on the continent horses are simply another source of meat. You can actually buy horsemeat in the UK, but they tend not to advertise it for the above reason. The main issue isn't so much that it's horsemeat but the fact that it has been packaged and sold as beef products. –  R4D4 Mar 3 '13 at 23:30

4 Answers 4

up vote 25 down vote accepted

It is perfectly safe to eat (when produced, transported, and so on under sanitary conditions, just like any other edible meat).

In some cultures it is considered a delicacy; in others, it is not considered appropriate to eat, but those issues of cultural norms, not of safety.

The news is because it is a violation of trust (truth in labeling) in a cultural background where horses are not normally eaten. Personally, I might wonder what other shortcuts the purveyor had taken if they are lying about content...

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With it being snuck into the food chain like this, there's some concern the meat may be contaminated with phenylbutazone 'horse aspirin': guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/11/horsemeat-bute-very-low-risk en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenylbutazone –  Wayfaring Stranger Feb 13 '13 at 2:44
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@WayfaringStranger I didn't know about this specific concern.... but that is the kind of thing my last sentence was hinting at. I agree, trust in the food supply chain is very important, which is why it is such news. The general edibility of horsemeat itself is not the core issue of the scandal, I don't think. –  SAJ14SAJ Feb 13 '13 at 2:50
    
I want to add that in Belgium horse meat is eaten normally, but there was the violation of trust too. You don't want to eat pork if you buy 'beef'. –  Mien Nov 20 '13 at 13:45

Adding to @SAJ14SAJ's answer, horse meat is perfectly fine for eating, but not if the horse has been treated with medicines that make it un-fit for human consumption.

From wikipedia

Horses in the United States are not bred, raised or treated as meat. Almost all equine medications and treatments are labeled 'not for horses intended for human consumption.' In the European Union, horses intended for slaughter cannot be treated with many medications commonly used for U.S. horses.

It is produced and eaten in various countries. A bit of trivia - Icelandic people were reluctant to convert to Christianity for a long long time after Pope Gregory III banned horse meat consumption in 732 AD, because it was considered a Pagan thing to eat horse meat.

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In the European Union, all horses must have a so called passport, which is a document that ensures that no forbidden medicinal products end up in the meat. When treating a horse, you can in some situations choose to use a drug that is approved for use in the food supply chain, but in some cases this is not possible. Keep in mind that horses will live 15–25 years.

If a horse has been treated with a forbidden drug, it is illegal to introduce it in the food supply chain (must not come into the slaughterhouse) and must be sent to destruction or be buried. The scandal in this case is that no one in the supply chain, except where it was wrongly marked beef, knew that it was horse meat and if it was approved for human consumption or not.

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the "passport" system would not have worked in this case anyway as the meat was imported from south america, it was not obtained from EU bred horses. What I don't know is whether the importer was aware it was horse meat, iow on which side of the supply chain the fraud was perpetrated. –  jwenting Feb 14 '13 at 7:01

There is no mammal meat which is dangerous, with the exception of certain organ meats such as polar bear liver (which has toxic levels of vitamin A). The issue was with veterinary drugs which are not permitted for food use ending up in the food supply.

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While this is technically true, practically speaking the vast majority of animals are wild, not farmed, and there is a very high incidence rate of serious diseases and parasites like trichinosis that come from eating them (e.g. bears). Horses are a weird in-between case because they're bred, but typically not for consumption, much like dogs and cats - so if you find one on the menu there's a good chance it was actually a stray and therefore unsafe. I'd be wary of eating any meat of unknown origin. –  Aaronut Feb 16 '13 at 16:34
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Actually, there is a handful of venomous mammals with poisonous meat. –  Kareen Feb 16 '13 at 16:37
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I would argue that the incidence of serious diseases is much higher in farmed animals, rather than those which are wild. Certainly meat should always be cooked appropriately, and one should know about the toxicity of specific organs, such as venom glands and liver. However, I will not accept that the idea that animals bred for food are safer with regard to disease than wild animals. Food animals are kept in diseased conditions, and given antibiotics to cover the symptoms (which has ultimately created dangerous antibiotic resistant strains). Sick animals regularly go to slaughter. –  Joshua Kast Feb 16 '13 at 19:43

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