As Burger Gate exploded, ITV ran an undercover exposé revealing abuses at an abattoir that slaughtered horses, and then the owners of two British processors were arrested on suspicion of selling meat from horses that had been treated with the commonly used anti-inflammatory bute, which can cause blood disorders in humans. The FSA was forced to admit that it had lost track of the contraband meat on the Continent.
Return to a Nightmare Vision
The safeguards had failed. European horses are supposed to have passports that detail their drug history and prevent the wrong animals from entering the meat system, but the BBC has just reported that over 7,000 unauthorized horse passports have been in circulation in Britain since 2008. The National Equine Database that was meant to bring traceability to the horse industry was scrapped in autumn 2012 as a part of cost-cutting measures.
From "suspect flesh" to "furtive sale" and "disreputable men," our quest for cheap, nutritious and safely produced red meat for the working man has brought us back to Saint-Hilaire's nightmare vision. And the horses themselves? Like Boxer in "Animal Farm," they continue to get the raw deal for their special status. Spring is coming. The mares in the meat herds will foal soon, but this time there won't be a market for horse-beef burgers.
The UK's horse sanctuaries are already at capacity after four years of recession and horse abandonments. The low-end horses will pass from market to market or be dumped to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, a Brussels' district has a new, eco-friendly recycling collection scheme. Draft horses pull wagons for waste through the city streets. It's a spot of old-world charm, and helps preserve traditional working breeds that would otherwise have no use but as meat.
Susanna Forrest is the author of "If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession" (Atlantic Books) and is currently working on a history of horses: The Age of the Horse. She also writes a blog .