Horse meat is delicious, full of nutrients and – when purchased from the right source – safe to eat. It’s not just an alternative to beef, it’s something that should be enjoyed and celebrated in its own right.
Horses have been useful livestock for millennia, and their meat is currently consumed in countries all over the world. It is especially common in China, Russia, Kazakhstan, France, Italy, Poland, Germany and Japan, where a particular delicacy is ‘Basashi’, or raw sliced horse meat.
Horse meat is a lean red meat with a distinctive, mildly gamey flavour. It’s slightly sweeter than beef, but can be used as a substitute in many beef recipes – as long as you tell people first!
On average, horse meat is leaner than beef yet contains the same amount of protein and around twice the amount of iron. It is also full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are an essential part of the human diet and can help prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Much recent news coverage has focused on concerns about the presence of Phenlybutazone (‘bute’) in horse meat. Bute is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that was originally intended for the treatment of arthritis in humans. Soon after its introduction in the 1950s, however, it was linked to the development of aplastic anaemia in around 1 in 30,000 people who were taking the drug, and was subsequently taken off the market. It is now widely used by vets for the relief of pain in horses.
Any horse that has received bute is banned from the food chain, and this is indicated by a specific section on its equine passport. This should make it easy for abattoirs to identify whether or not horses from within the EU – where the regulations are enforced – are safe for consumption. If you eat meat from an ethical supplier, therefore, you should be safe in the knowledge that there is little chance your meat will contain bute. Indeed, FSA testing in the past few years has found very few instances of the drug within a large amount of samples from the UK.
Furthermore, the levels of bute contained within horse meat are much lower than those originally administered to humans with arthritis. The Food Standards Agency recently commented that “In levels reported in previous FSA testing of contaminated meat, the maximum level found would have to be multiplied a thousand-fold to be at the same level as that which used to be given to humans. This suggests that even if someone eats contaminated meat, the risk of damage to their health is very low.”