Hold Your Horses
The whole M. Wells Horse Tartaregate got me looking into the matter of horse meat in greater depth and intensity. I’m now writing a piece on it for a national publication and will hope to share it soon.
I think it’s terrific that Chef Dufour bowed to pressure from animal advocates and scratched plans to add raw horse meat to his MoMA PS 1 menu. But, the more I looked into the ethics and legality of serving horse meat, the more I found myself sidetracked by the remarkable threat horse meat poses to public health. All those hip adventure eaters who attended the Mooga Booga food festival last May in Brooklyn and ate one of Dufour’s now legendary horse-meat-foie-gras-pork-fat-grilled cheese sandwiches (he sold 5000) might be in for a shock to learn that their knee-weakening soupcon of horse flesh was a chemically infused carcinogenic chunk of flesh that makes pink slime look as innocent as an apple.
Think about the supply chain. Much of the horse meat produced by Canadian slaughterhouses (where Dufour sourced) and exported globally comes from discarded American race horses. Spent American race horses are understood by the industry to be more of an industrial byproduct than a source of food. The horse “product” was nurtured to run around a track and win bets made by fat cats and hucksters, not to become part of a heart attack inducing sandwich sold to slobbering epicureans at a food orgy.
Raising an animal to be a product that runs in circles for money means treating its body like a pharmaceutical landfill. Race horses are systematically injected with chemical cocktails potent enough to, as John Hershey once said of James Agee’s alcohol use, “stun a rhinoceros.” This laundry list of chemicals includes the carcinogenic phenylbutazone, or “bute.” Bute is banned by the FDA for use on animals destined to become food. It is, in a word, deadly. And it bioaccumulates in horse flesh.
Many commentators have declared Tartargate over. I’d hold your horses on that one. Last June a slaughterhouse company called Equine United announced plans to open a horse slaughterhouse in Missouri. It declared that it would slaughter horses “humanely” and distribute the products globally and domestically. Most interestingly, United Equine assured us all that the USDA would be regulating the safety of the meat produced. When a reporter I know called the USDA to ask how it would regulate the use of bute, the representative had no idea what bute was. She had to spell it for him.