The three U.S. slaughterhouses that dealt in horse closed in 2007, according to the New Food Economy. Horses in the United States can be sold and shipped to other countries, where it is legal to slaughter them for food. Elsewhere in the world, eating horse is more common — it’s considered a delicacy in Japan, where it can be served as sashimi, and it is also served in Belgium, Iceland, Norway, Slovenia and parts of Italy, among other countries.
Horsemeat has been the subject of several high-profile incidents in recent years. Four years ago in Europe, Ikea meatballs were found to contain horse DNA, sparking a huge public relations crisis for the Swedish furniture company, which operates cafes. (“Ikea meatballs? Neigh it ain’t so,” tweeted the Australian columnist Martin McKenzie-Murray.) In May, the Pittsburgh restaurant Cure — whose chef, Justin Severino, has been a James Beard Awards Best Chef semifinalist for the last four years — was reprimanded by the USDA for serving horse on a tasting menu. The horse tartare was part of a collaborative dinner with a Toronto chef, and Severino said that the traditional Quebecois dish was sourced from an Alberta horse farm, where horsemeat is legal. According to the Toronto Sun, Canada is the world leader in the production of horsemeat.
“We don’t pick up homeless dogs and cats and send them to slaughterhouses. We shouldn’t do that with horses either,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, in a statement.
However, one of the reasons that Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) cast the decisive vote was because he said slaughterhouses in Mexico and other countries, which buy American horses, are even more grim.
However, as the New Food Economy reports, bringing back American horsemeat faces significant challenges. The funding bill still needs to pass in the House, and the ban could be reinserted. Another bill, the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, could ban both domestic horse slaughter and selling horses to foreign slaughterhouses. So, it’s unlikely anyone in the United States will be eating horse cheeseburgers this time next year.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that it is illegal to sell meat that has not been inspected in the U.S.