No favor found for horse meat

We were never short of animal protein, but sausage made of horsemeat found no takers.


Two young men, whom Mother liked but nonetheless called rascals, knocked on our front door carrying two cylinder-shaped packages wrapped in butcher paper. It was summer sausage, which they wanted us to taste.

Mother, who never wished to offend, said it was good. In truth, the sausage was stringy and not nearly as good as the thuringer made by the local butcher shop.

“Guess what it’s made from,’’ one of them said as he cut a couple more slices with his pocketknife.

They had a wily reputation for strange things, which was reinforced when they presented Mother with a sweetcorn-fed and skinned raccoon for her to cook. It emerged from the oven as a greasy and foul mess.

We guessed the main sausage ingredient might be mutton or goat, but we were wrong on both counts.


“It’s horse meat,’’ one of them said before explaining that somebody they knew had one that he wanted to get rid of and they always wanted to see what the meat might taste like.

Although “companion animal’’ wasn’t in common usage then, we were shocked when they said they had packaged steaks and roasts from the animal. Horse meat is popular in many European, Asian and South American countries. It is a cheap source of readily available protein and it is said that the meat is lower in cholesterol and higher in protein than beef or pork.

The European Union imports horse meat from Canada, Mexico and South America. Canada has seven federally licensed slaughter plants but the last U.S. plant — located in Illinois — closed in 2007.

A scandal of sorts erupted in the EU and other European countries a few years back when it was revealed that hamburger and other beef products were tested and revealed that some contained unlabeled horse meat.

More than 100,000 U.S. horses are shipped to Mexican and Canadian plants. Periodic efforts have been made in Congress to allow slaughter plants but have gained little support.

Backers say allowing domestic horse slaughtering plants would increase employment, provide an outlet for unwanted domesticated and wild horses, and provide owners with income.

In the United States, horse meat was an option when beef and pork supplies were limited because of war. Army contractors in the Civil War added some to the supply chain. The U.S. Department of Agriculture created an official stamp to identify horse meat. Many Doughboys fighting on the Western Front during World War I complained that the meat sickened them, which drew strong denials from the government and health authorities.

The sausage gifted to us was tossed and the offer of steaks was politely declined. We were never short of animal protein, although there were times when we wished our beef had been from a fattened steer or free-martin heifer. Such was the case when an 8-year-old Holstein cow slipped on cement and broke her leg.


The hamburger was fine, but the roasts and steaks were tougher than shoe leather. Mother tried hard to tenderize the meat, first by pounding it with a wood mallet and later by buying a tenderizing product. Nothing worked, but the meat was eaten without too much complaint.

Mother, like so many others before home freezers were widely available and made less expensive, canned beef and chicken. It was a quick fix served with mounds of mashed potatoes.

My sister and I got together recently to cut up half a hog. She did most of the cutting while I labeled the vacuum-sealed packages. It is not my favorite thing to do, but it does provide ample time to talk about the past when Mother spent hours in the basement filling the immense and long freezer with pork and beef.

Fortunately, the freezer never held horse meat.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.

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