Is horse OK to eat?

Horse meat has historically been consumed in many cultures around the world. However, its acceptability as a food source remains controversial in some Western countries. This article will examine the safety, nutrition, taste, and ethics of eating horse meat in an objective manner.

Is it safe to eat horse meat?

Yes, horse meat is generally safe for human consumption. Horses that are bred and raised specifically for meat are subject to the same regulations and inspections as other livestock like cattle, pigs, and sheep. As with all meats, proper handling, preparation and cooking are important to prevent foodborne illnesses. Most food safety organizations worldwide, including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), consider horse meat safe to eat.

Is horse meat nutritious?

Horse meat is quite nutritious, having high amounts of protein and iron while being low in fat, sodium and cholesterol. A 3.5 oz serving of horse meat contains about:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 175
Protein 26g
Fat 7g
Iron 14% DV
Sodium 6% DV

Horse meat is leaner than comparable cuts of beef or pork. It can be a healthy source of nutrients for most people. However, consult your doctor if you have any specific dietary restrictions or concerns.

What does horse meat taste like?

The flavor of horse meat is often described as sweet, rich and similar to beef. However, the taste can vary depending on the breed, diet, age and muscle used. Horse meat from younger horses tends to be lighter in color and more tender, while meat from older horses is darker and less tender.

Many compare the taste to venison or bison, citing a faintly sweet, gamey flavor. The meat is versatile enough to be substituted in many beef recipes. It can be grilled, pan-fried, roasted, stewed or processed into foods like sausages.

Is eating horse meat ethical?

Opinions on the ethics of eating horse meat differ greatly from culture to culture. In many countries, horses are viewed no differently than cows, pigs and other livestock routinely raised for meat. However, in Western countries like the United States and United Kingdom, horses are often seen as companions and sporting partners rather than food animals. This can make the idea of eating horse meat unappealing for some consumers.

Groups like PETA argue that horses are intelligent, emotional animals who suffer when raised in commercial settings or transported long distances for slaughter. They advocate for the continued taboo on horse meat in the West.

However, regulated horse meat industries point out that as long as the animals are humanely treated, there is little difference from ethically raised beef or other meats. Supporters argue that banning horse meat actually incentivizes underground and inhumane slaughter of horses to meet secret demand.

Ultimately, the ethics of consuming horse meat depend on one’s personal feelings about horses and other animals, as well as the production practices involved.

History of Eating Horse Meat

Horse meat has been eaten throughout history, dating back to prehistoric times. Here is an overview of the history of horse meat consumption around the world:


There is evidence that horses were hunted for meat as far back as the Paleolithic era in Europe. Throughout ancient history, horse meat continued to be consumed in many European regions.

During the Roman Empire, horses were bred specifically for food. After the fall of Rome, eating horse meat remained commonplace in most of Europe. In Medieval times, poorer societies frequently relied on horses for sustenance.

France became well known for its horse meat consumption, upholding the tradition into modern times. Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and other European nations also kept up regular use of horse meat into contemporary food culture.

Central Asia

People living in the Eurasian steppe regions have a long tradition of horse meat consumption dating back to nomadic tribes like the Scythians, Huns and Mongols. Horses were a readily available source of meat for these groups as they traveled and battled on horseback.

This culinary tradition continues today in places like Kazakhstan, where horse meat is used to produce delicacies like kazy (horse sausage). Other Central Asian nations including Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan also incorporate horse meat into their national cuisines.

East Asia

China represents one of the parts of the world where horse meat is most widely consumed. Horse meat is especially common in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and other northern regions that were influenced by nomadic peoples. However, it can be found throughout the country.

Horse meat is also eaten in other nearby countries like Mongolia, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is considered a delicacy in some areas. Sashimi style horse meat, called basashi, is popular in parts of Japan.

North & South America

The practice of eating horse meat originated with early Native American tribes, who hunted and consumed horses across North America prior to European settlement. Plains tribes like the Lakota and Comanche were particularly known to relish horse meat.

When Europeans arrived in the Americas, they introduced domestic horse breeding and riding. While the United States, Canada and most of Latin America eventually developed social taboos against eating horse flesh, the tradition has continued into modern times in some places. Horse meat is still eaten and exported by countries like Mexico, Argentina, and Canada’s Quebec province.

Countries That Eat Horse Meat

Here is an overview of which modern countries eat horse meat as part of contemporary mainstream food culture:


– Belgium: Horse meat is popular, used in dishes like filet Americain
– France: Considered the horse meat capital of the world, it’s widely eaten
– Germany: Consumed in many regions, especially the southern Rhineland
– Iceland: Eaten since the 9th century, part of national food heritage
– Italy: Lean horse meat used in a variety of traditional recipes
– Kazakhstan: Major producer and consumer of horse meat products
– Netherlands: Steak, sausage and other horse meat commonplace
– Norway: Consumed for centuries, remains in modern cuisine
– Poland: Considered part of traditional culture, especially in Silesia
– Russia: Eaten by various groups including Tatars, Bashkirs and Yakuts
– Slovenia: Horse burgers, sausages and smoked meat are popular
– Switzerland: Consumed by all segments of the population
– United Kingdom: Rare now, but was commonly eaten until the 1930s


– China: One of the world’s largest consumers, especially northern regions
– Indonesia: Consumed in dishes like satay, part of culture in some areas
– Japan: Basashi (raw horse meat) is a delicacy, production regulated
– Kazakhstan: Major producer and consumer of horse meat products
– Kyrgyzstan: Large part of national diet due to nomadic heritage
– Mongolia: Consumed since prehistoric times, remains in cuisine today
– Philippines: Eaten in northern Luzon region despite taboos elsewhere
– South Korea: Grown increasingly popular in recent decades
– Turkmenistan: National dish is kazy (horse sausage)

North America

– Canada: Mostly produced in Quebec, where it’s considered a delicacy
– Mexico: Consumed in central and northern regions like Jalisco

South America

– Argentina: Major exporter to Europe, regular part of national cuisine
– Chile: Consumed but viewed as lower class food by some


– Australia: Horse meat exported to Europe, consumed to a limited degree
– Tonga: National dish is fangamea (horse meat marinated in milk)

Countries That Don’t Eat Horse Meat

While enjoyed worldwide, horse meat does face heavy taboos in certain nations. These Western countries stand out for their strong social stigma against eating horses:

United Kingdom

Horse meat was once regularly eaten in Britain historically. However, opposition began taking root in the early 20th century. Public sentiment fully turned against consuming horse flesh, to the point where it was banned in 1936.

While the ban was eventually lifted, the taboo remains to this day. Britain was rocked by a major horse meat scandal in 2013 when traces were found in beef products.

United States

Like the UK, America once had a thriving horse meat trade that petered out in the early 1900s. Changes in transportation methods reduced horses’ role as work animals. Meanwhile, moral opposition from groups like the ASPCA grew.

There are no federal laws against horse slaughter in the US, but public disgust effectively banished it by shutting down domestic production starting in the 1950s. A short-lived return occurred from 2004-2007 before closing again.


Australia was another country that moved away from eating horse flesh in the 20th century. Horses held an important place helping settle the frontier. Horse meat export continued into the 1960s, but has since ceased.

While not banned per se, there is powerful cultural resistance. Prominent advocates like former PM Bob Hawke have lobbied to end horse slaughter.


Argentina has an interesting relationship with horse meat. While legal and consumed in rural areas, it faces disapproval in cities like Buenos Aires. The country is a major exporter but per capita consumption is low. Horse-loving gauchos are said to revile eating horse flesh.


The Hindu majority considers cows sacred and bans their slaughter. Similar taboos surround eating horse meat, which is effectively banned in most parts of the country. Horse meat consumption historically occurred among Muslim and Christian minorities.

Reasons for Opposing Horse Meat

What helped drive the decline of horse meat consumption in the English-speaking world? Here are some of the main moral objections to eating horses:

Horses Seen as Companion Animals

Modern Western attitudes view horses primarily as beloved pets, sport animals, and noble beasts of burden, not livestock. So eating them strikes many as unethical exploitation of a cherished animal.

Viewed as Sentient and Intelligent

Scientific research suggests horses are highly intelligent, social creatures with advanced cognitive abilities like long-term memory and spatial reasoning. This leads some to argue they deserve special protections.

Perceived Inhumanity of Horse Slaughter

Some methods and conditions used in the commercial slaughtering and transporting of horses have been criticized as inhumane. Footage can spark outrage when it shows mistreatment.

Safety and Oversight Concerns

There is disagreement about how horse meat should be regulated and inspected versus other red meats. Lack of familiarity with preparing it may also contribute to perceived risks.

Taboo Due to Association with Hard Times

As horses stopped being beasts of burden, their meat came to be viewed as unsavory poverty food eaten only in desperate times of war or famine. The stigma persists even today.

Reasons for Supporting Horse Meat

On the other hand, here are reasons why many cultures around the world continue enjoying horse meat without ethical qualms:

Historic Tradition and Delicacy

Humans have used horses as a major food source since prehistoric times. Horse meat remains an esteemed part of cuisine in many places, much like beef, pork or lamb.

Important Part of Rural Diets and Economy

Raising and processing horses provides jobs and vital nutrition in countries where poverty remains a concern. Banning horse meat affects vulnerable groups.

Lean and Nutrient-Rich Meat Option

With global rising rates of obesity and heart disease, horse meat offers a low-fat red meat choice. Its high protein and iron content make it nutritionally beneficial.

No Difference from Eating Other Livestock

Those who support eating horse meat argue there is no objective difference between horses, pigs, cows and other animals raised for food. All deserve humane treatment.

Regulated Industry and Proper Handling

The regulated horse meat industry stresses that with appropriate standards for slaughter and meat processing, it is just as safe as other meats.


The debate over horse meat remains highly polarized between cultures and ideological viewpoints. However, both sides share a concern over animal welfare. Continuing to raise standards addressing the ethical treatment of horses during transport and slaughter could help reconcile the two perspectives.

Informed consumers can decide whether to avoid or permit horse meat based on their principles. But maintaining detailed regulations rather than outright banning creates better conditions for horses and people alike. With open-minded education, the controversial practice of eating horse flesh may gain wider acceptance worldwide in the future.

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