They Eat Horses, Don’t They?

The recent controversy over slaughterhouses in the United States brought to light the fact that in many parts of the world today, including France, Belgium, Sweden, Italy and Japan, people still eat horses.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay notoriously encouraged people to cook horsemeat during an episode that aired in May 2007 on his television show The F-Word (a show that ran for two seasons in the U.K. before it was cancelled), and in response some protesters had a truckload of manure dumped in front of his Claridge’s restaurant in London.

Proponents of eating horse meat cite the nutritional value, cleanliness and taste, and pooh-pooh the taboos against eating horse flesh as sentimental and irrational given that we consume vast quantities of other dead animals, fish and fowl.  

I am not a vegan or a vegetarian.  I consumed turkey flesh on Thanksgiving Day.  I don’t know what we should do about slaughterhouses in the United States.  I don’t know if there is such a thing as “humane slaughter,” though I have heard it is all the rage among people who want to “love animals and have their hamburger too.”  I am concerned about the sensational aspect of butchery on some of the cooking shows I have viewed recently.  More and more, there seems to be a point at which the contestants or celebrity chefs are required to butcher some variety of animal, bird or fish on television.  

Vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was vilified for admitting (or bragging) that she took part in hunting expeditions for moose, bear and caribou.  I am no Palin fan, but I did wonder if all of her critics had found a way to avoid killing all animals.  Buying supermarket shrink-wrapped, ranch-raised beef steak is not equivalent to using a high-powered rifle to shoot caribou from a helicopter, but there is still a dead animal in there somewhere.  At least the caribou had a life of some freedom before it died.

Even vegetarian and vegan diets cause animal deaths, if only through “collateral damage.”  A paper published in July 2003, in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, entitled The Least Harm Principle May Require that Humans Consume a Diet Containing Large Herbivores, Not a Vegan Diet looked into the subject of deaths caused to small animals, birds and reptiles by large scale production of non-meat food products.  Using the “least harm” principle, Steven L. Davis, Professor Emeritus, Growth Biology at Oregon State University, and specialist in a field called “animal bioethics,” concluded that a grass-fed beef diet did the “least harm” to other animals, given that even a vegan diet caused significant death to large numbers of small animals, birds and reptiles due to harvesting practices.  

A response to Davis’ thesis is offered by Gaverick Matheny (School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins) here.  

I don’t know if there is a correct answer.  I don’t know if the pain experienced by a wild “mouse caught in a thresher” is comparable to the pain experienced by a domestic cow killed by a bolt to the brain after a life spent in captivity.  I believe it is a question we as compassionate human beings should ask.

Is there such a thing as “humane slaughter?”  

How do we do the “least harm” to our fellow creatures?

3 Responses to “They Eat Horses, Don’t They?”
  1. Lesley Dewar says:

    There are some creatures that should never be killed for food – like dolphins!

    These are the links to fight the secret dolphin slaughter in Japan.

    They urgently need your help now.
    Please pass this on to every one you know.


  2. theandbetween says:


    Thanks for your comment.

    Do you believe horses are also creatures that should never be killed for food?

    Do you agree with the researcher who concluded a large herbivore diet causes “the least harm?”

  3. lesleylodge says:

    In the UK and now in much of Europe, this issue has become very topical as horsemeat keeps being found in supermarkets in processed meals and labelled as “fresh beef”. I firmly believe healthy horses should not be killed for consumption. I’ve heard talk of an abbattoir offering of £250 for a mare and foal. That just seems plain wrong.

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