Ever wonder about the ultimate fate of those cute ponies at the fair or petting zoo? Despite public fear among Brits that such animals were ending up on their dinner tables, a new study reveals that most horses sold for slaughter in the U.K. are larger thoroughbreds and riding horses.
Although horse meat is not popular in the U.K., it is still legal. Concern that the meat was coming from pet ponies led a team of researchers from the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, England to examine the variety of horses sold at auction.
Troy Gibson and his team tracked 384 horses at seven randomly-selected auctions in Britain in 2011. Of the animals, 294 were sold, with 68 going to abattoirs, or slaughterhouses. The horses tagged for the meat trade were on average larger than those destined for other purposes, with fewer ponies represented. Slaughterhouses preferred thoroughbreds and riding horses, which offer the maximim meat yield.
"In general, the findings from this study did not support the view that the abattoir industry focused on profiting from the slaughter of pet ponies," wrote Gibson.
The Brits' aversion to horse meat, which was popular until the 1930s, stems from their association of horses with pets and animal rights groups' protests of their treatment in the slaughter process. The taboo reached a new high earlier this year when horse meat was found in several products labeled as beef.
Americans have a similar aversion, with horse meat being effectively banned in 2007 when Congress decided it would no longer fund USDA inspection of the meat. However, the ban was not renewed in a 2011 bill, and two slaughterhouses, one in New Mexico and one in Iowa, now have plans to start processing horse meat.
Horse meat remains much more popular in the rest of Europe; the Italians are particularly fond, leading the European Union in meat production, according to a report produced by the advocacy group Humane Society International.
In Japan, horse meat is served as a type of sashimi, called basashi.
Read a summary of the article, published Monday in the journal Veterinary Record.
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