Do We Really Need A Federal Ban On Horse Meat?

Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,

For decades in the United States, turkey has been the center of the Thanksgiving meal. Some eccentrics may offer other choices, such as roast beef or duck, but nowadays, it's a sure bet that few households will be offering horse meat as one of Thursday's featured dishes. 

Horse meat has largely disappeared from the Western diet, and not even our pets eat much horse anymore.

In the United States, however, this flight from horse meat has been helped along by the federal government, which, as with so many other matters, has taken up the task of micromanaging how meat is produced in the United States. 

In fact, while Congress debates issues like Obamacare and tax reform, it has also been debating whether or not to end a federal ban on horse meat production

Animal advocates are keeping close watch on Congress amid concern that a moratorium on horse meat production may be in jeopardy.


Congress shut down the industry nearly a decade ago by cutting off funds for USDA meat inspectors. But in July, a key House committee approved an annual farm spending bill that would lift the ban.


The full House then ratified that shift in policy, for the first time in two years - opening the door to revival of an industry that many Americans find repugnant, but which some horse owners view as a practical way to dispose of unwanted livestock.


Horse meat is consumed in a number of countries, including Mexico, Japan, France and Belgium. Two of the three U.S. slaughterhouses serving the export market before the 2006 ban were in North Texas, in Kaufman and Fort Worth.

When confronted by such a story, the first thing one might wonder is "why is this a federal issue?" And then: "where exactly in the Constitution is the part that grants federal power to regulate horse meat." Hint: it's not in there. 

Obviously, this is the sort of issue that can be handled quite easily at the municipal and county level — if at all — but since the US long ago seized for itself the power to inspect meat, it can just as easily decide what meat can be sold in the marketplace. 

A Brief History of Horse Meat 

To understand how horse meat came to be something that most Americans couldn't care less about, we must first take a look at its history. 

It appears the last time there was a concerted effort in the West to encourage the consumption of horse meat by humans as high-end cuisine may have been in the late 19th century. According to Frederick Simoons, particularly notable was a French campaign to promote consumption of horse meat, including a posh event at the Grand Hotel in Paris in 1865. At the event, "the horse soup was judged good, and the boiled horsemeat and cabbage was acclaimed excellent."

Simoons continues:

That same year, a horsemeat butcher shop (boucherie hippophagique or boucherie chevaline) was opened in Paris, and it was soon followed by others...the French campaign stimulated an interest in horse meat in England; a rise in meat prices following an epidemic among cattle enhanced this interest and led to the holding of horsemeat banquets in England in 1868.

In the US, consuming horse has never been terribly popular, largely because other sources of meat have long been so readily available.

On the other hand, horse meat was frequently used in the past as pet food. 

And by "the past" I mean just one generation ago. One need only peruse this June 21, 1963 issue of Life to find an ad for Friskies dog food that announces "Horse Meat with Gravy" dog food, which the ad informs us is made from "selected cuts of finest horse meat." 


Many Americans over the age of 50 may remember that butchers often made a selection of horse meat cuts available, usually for use as pet food. Children who are fond of the novels of Beverly Cleary may remember that Henry Huggins's beloved dog Ribsy was known to eat horse meat. 

The prevalence of horse meat in pet food up until the 1960s was even featured in an episode of Mad Men (Season 3: "The Gypsy and the Hobo") in which a dog-food company sought the help of an advertising firm to help hide from the public the equine origins of its meat. The episode, which portrayed consumers as being horrified by horse meat, is actually anachronistic. Few people in the 60s cared that horse meat was still being fed to dogs. 

It is true, though, that by the 1960s, the use of horses for meat was in decline. But much of this was driven by the fact that there were fewer and fewer horses in the United States as the decades rolled by, and it was a previous glut of horses that had made horse meat a staple. 

The Rise of Horse Meat as Pet Food 

In Catherine C. Grier's history of Pets in America, she notes that pre-packaged pet foot was itself highly unusual before the 20th century: "Canned dog food first appeared in the 1910s and developed as a regional business with relatively low start-up costs."

Prior to the 1900s, metal cans were too expensive to be feasible for low-priced animal food, and were only used for higher priced food for human consumption. Thanks to the proliferation of mass production methods and mechanization in the early 20th century, however, canned food became a product that families could afford for their dogs. Prior to this, people fed their pets scraps, and hardly devoted much of the family budget to specially-prepared meals for cats and dogs. 

But mechanization also contributed to the rise of horse meat as an ingredient in pet food, precisely because the horses themselves were being replaced by automobiles and tractors. As Grier notes, "the American public turned from equine- to gasoline- powered vehicles in the 1910s and 1920s."

In the 1930s, butchers began offering regular delivery of horse meat for dog food along with deliveries for the usual human fare, and "[b]y 1940, canned dog food was a profitable business for regional packers."

The Stage Is Set for Banning Horse Meat

Back then, of course, few people were interested in banning the slaughter of horses, but even if many had been, they would have met fierce opposition from a great many family businesses and local communities were horse meat was an important source of income. 

By the 1970s, though, federal legislation and regulation was making it increasingly difficult to sell horse for either human or animal consumption. Thus, by 2006, processing horse meat for consumption in the United States had become a thing of the past. Horse meat is still exported, and horse meat in the form of "animal byproducts" still finds its way into pet food. But long gone are the days when Friskies was openly advertising its use of horse meat. 

Those who advocate against the federal prohibition on horse meat face an uphill climb. This is made worse by the fact that sentimentalism about horses — even among people who daily eat beef and pork — is very widespread. Moreover, a rapidly rising American living standard throughout the 20th century made horse meat irrelevant to the daily lives of Americans. In parts of the world where meat is especially expensive, horse meat continues to be a viable industry, but in the US, thanks to an abundance of other meats, horse meat is a concern only of a tiny minority. And in a democratic system ruled by interest group politics - as is the American political system - the wants of the minority are very frequently disposable.


bluez RafterManFMJ Wed, 11/22/2017 - 18:40 Permalink

I stopped eating fish because I learned they are mostly raised in dirty little, chemical saturated "ponds". No more bacon either since I learned that pigs (and goats) will eat just about anything, which is of course, exactly what they are fed.Cattle are the perfect meat making machines. I don't eat dogs or horses because they are my friends. I wouldn't mind eating people however; very few friends left in that species.I'm able to get by these days just fine with the groceries down at the market. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

In reply to by RafterManFMJ

Pool Shark MisterMousePotato Wed, 11/22/2017 - 14:22 Permalink

This kind of thing illustrates just how moronic Kalifornia is.In Kalifornia, you could steal every single car in the state; one after another; and NEVER DO A SINGLE DAY IN PRISON. (PC § 666.5, VC § 10851) However, if you possess a horse with the intent to sell it for human consumption, YOU CAN GO TO PRISON FOR 3 YEARS! (PC § 598c) I gotta get outta this state...

In reply to by MisterMousePotato

swmnguy MisterMousePotato Wed, 11/22/2017 - 14:28 Permalink

As usual the Mises Institute people avoid the obvious when it doesn't suit their juvenile agenda.  Just recently there was a big scandal in the EU with adulterated meat.  Horse was found in food labeled as beef, and other things besides.  It wasn't in butcher cuts, but in prepared foods.  Like, say, a frozen pizza with horse (dog?  cat?  rat?) instead of the indicated hamburger.In the perfect Mises utiopia, you would have no idea what the hell you're eating and no recourse if you get sick, except to use the power of the market and not buy whatever it was again.  Small consolation if you're really sick or dead, but we wouldn't want to hamper the pursuit of free enterprise, would we.Dumb-asses.  They're such manly individualists, until one day they turn on their faucet and no water comes out, or if the garbage they put out on the curb doesn't disappear as if by magic.  Then you'd better grab a jacket and a shovel because the snowflakes are going to pile up in drifts.  They're just Republicans who want to smoke pot, for the most part, or people who don't understand that none of the qualifiers of modern living were possible without cooperative action between people, and that to live in a civilized society, one sometimes has to forego some of one's freedoms for reasons of either exigency or expedience.

In reply to by MisterMousePotato

stilletto2 swmnguy Wed, 11/22/2017 - 14:52 Permalink

What a dumb comment. Wrong on every count. The meat scandal in Europe was about false labelling. If they had labelled the meatpies as horse then all would be fine. But labelling horse as beef or beef as horse is the crime.I dont care what you eat; eat termites or rabbits or thistles - its your choice. So why should you or the commies in congress decide what i eat? If i want to eat horse, so what. If i want to breed and sell horse - so what, as long as I label it truthfully.By the way, its actually very nice, like a lean tender beef. When a prime race-horse is put down because it breaks its leg then we should honour it by eating it. Not waste the beautiful animal in an incinerator! I respect horses (they graze my fields) enough to deem them worthy of eating.

In reply to by swmnguy

Malleus Maleficarum stilletto2 Wed, 11/22/2017 - 16:37 Permalink

Great points! Kind of like recent laws relegalizing the eating of fresh roadkill; it's a sin to waste the flesh of the animal and eating it is much more honorable than just letting it rot or incinerating it. This is especially true when you consider 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese, and that we throw away around 40% of our food! I do wonder what this recent fixation on eating horses portends - everyone's heard the stories about horsemeat being the only protein available in WWII Europe!

In reply to by stilletto2

Justawhoaman Big Corked Boots Wed, 11/22/2017 - 14:18 Permalink

They are currently being shipped to Mexico or Canada where horse slaughter is allowed.  Unfortunately, the method for getting them there and the condition of the animals is often far from humane.  Instead of employing Temple Grandin to come up with a humane method of slaughter methodology, we would rather let the overabundance of poorly bred and densely populated mustang herds to suffer alone.  But hey, it makes the bleeding heart liberals happy because it is out of sight and out of their minds...

In reply to by Big Corked Boots

Ilmarinen joak Wed, 11/22/2017 - 14:38 Permalink

The first time I saw horse meat for sale was at a farmer's market in Montreal, where curiosity and a reasonable price made me buy some.I was a little surprised when the people I was travelling with were repulsed by my purchase, but in the end it was enjoyed by all. 

In reply to by joak

Twee Surgeon Eyes Opened Wed, 11/22/2017 - 18:39 Permalink

My old lady started buying a brand of dog food on line that has no B.S. fillers like soy and wheat but they do use more conscientious ingredients. Our young Lab was shitting giant turds that looked human and it was always hungry, with the new food it's turds are far less frequent, smaller and firmer. Much healthier. I do not do product endorsements and had never heard of this outfit till a month ago but I'll make an exception for the dogs of ZH. Pupster is noticeably calmer and his coat is looking very shiny and this food is getting delivered to the doorstep via FedEx and the price/consumption ratio is no different than the on the shelf crap at the store. Chewy. co out of Vegas.

In reply to by Eyes Opened

HRClinton hedgeless_horseman Wed, 11/22/2017 - 13:48 Permalink

Those free-thinking souls who actually tried horse meat (like me), will tell you their surprise at how good it tasted.This only makes sense, since a horse is a cleaner animal than a cow and a gussied eater. Long horse and pony meat for private consumption. p.s. The French snicker at the culinary ignorance of the Anglos, who have raised this animal to super-status.

In reply to by hedgeless_horseman

So It Goes HRClinton Wed, 11/22/2017 - 15:32 Permalink

C'monDon't eat a pony.  I won't eat veal because of the animal suffering.Harris Ranch makes a private label pot roast available at Costco here in SoCal.  It is tasty.  But I was driving through the central valley and came upon the most putrid smell.  Several miles ahead was Harris Ranch.  Miles long - amazing size.  But the animals were so suffering.  Penned in stalls of mud and feces - never cleaned.  The animals were listless - just sitting in their own discharges.  I got so sad that will not knowingly touch a Harris Ranch product.Mind you I will eat just about anything - and - I know I'm a hypocrite who wants his meat nicely wrapped.  Animals raised as a food source is fine - just don't make them suffer - that is bad Karma.

In reply to by HRClinton