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December 4, 2012

Horsemeat Consumption in Europe

Humane Society International/Europe

  • Horsemeat is commonly eaten in parts of Europe. iStock

In addition to the 250,000 horses slaughtered annually for their meat in the European Union, horsemeat is imported to the region, mostly from Argentina, Mexico, Canada, Uruguay and Brazil. Smaller quantities are also imported from Australia and New Zealand. This combined trade results in hundreds of thousands of kilos of horsemeat being produced annually for consumption across the EU.

Levels of consumption

While there is a lucrative trade in horsemeat in Europe [PDF], it is not necessarily consumed in all EU countries to an equal degree, if at all. Horsemeat is, for example, commonly eaten in (parts of) Italy, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, while, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, there has historically been a strong cultural aversion to eating it.

Respondents to a July 2012 survey [1] said they never or only sometimes eat horsemeat, whilst only a very small percentage of those asked said they eat it frequently (3 per cent of Italians, 4 per cent of French and 6 per cent of Belgians).

Even in the countries where the meat is widely available, not everyone believes that it is acceptable to eat horses. The same survey found that only 50 per cent of respondents in France, 51 per cent in Belgium and 58 per cent in Italy believed that it was acceptable to eat horses.

Clearly labelled?

Horsemeat is marketed to consumers in a variety of different ways. It may be sold as fillet steak or stewing meat, but is often processed into other products, such as sausages and smoked ready sliced meats.

Results from a retail investigation into the availability of horsemeat [PDF], undertaken in June 2012 and carried out in Belgium, France and the Netherlands [2], revealed that the meat can also be found as an indistinguishable ingredient in cheap, fast-food meat snacks. So consumers may be completely unaware of the origin of the horsemeat or that they are buying horse at all, due to inadequate labelling.

Call for a moratorium on imports

The majority of European consumers surveyed [1] in Belgium, France and Italy, the biggest EU importers and consumers of horsemeat, support an end to imports of horsemeat from countries whose food safety regulations do not meet EU standards.

The survey showed 84 per cent of Belgians, 73 per cent of French and 85 per cent of Italians, backed such a measure.

The poll also indicated a lack of consumer awareness about horsemeat origins. Most people polled mistakenly assumed that horsemeat sold in their country originates either locally or from elsewhere in Europe. In fact, Europe imports a significant proportion of its horsemeat from abroad.

1. Ipsos MORI, Attitudes to Horsemeat Consumption, 20th August 2012. Survey in Italy, Belgium and France commissioned by Humane Society International.

2. Retail Investigation into the Sale of Horsemeat [PDF], October 2012. Compiled by Humane Society International.

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