Why are some of us revolted by the idea of eating horse meat?

The recent scandal of horse meat found in beef burgers in the UK and Ireland is about food fraud, mislabelling and poor traceability, but the issue has given rise to an interesting question: why do the British, and those of us in its former colonies, have such a revulsion over the idea of eating horse meat?

The answer would lie in the fact that horses are seen as pets; that, historically, they were useful for transport and war, and that they elicit emotional connotations.

Horse-eating, or hippophagy, spread in Europe in the 19th century, after famines caused several governments to license horse butcheries.

The meat is still commonly consumed in France and Belgium, as well as parts of Central Asia and South America. So why are the British so squeamish about eating horse?

There is no real logic as to why plenty of Britons are perfectly willing to eat cows, pigs, and chickens, but see horses as taboo, according to Dr Roger Mugford, an animal psychologist who runs the Animal Behaviour Centre.

“I’m a farmer and there is an irony. Why are horses different from pigs and lambs?” he says.

Part of the reason is people frequently see horses as pets, and humans tend to put “extra qualities and values” on animals they call pets, he says.

“As soon as you give an animal a name, how can you eat it? I’ve got lambs, sheep, with names – they live forever. I don’t name the commercial flock, which won’t,” he says.

History is also responsible for attitudes towards horses, according to Mugford.

“Horses helped out in warfare. There have been huge sacrifices alongside riders in historic battles. And there are sentimental depictions like War Horse,” he says.

Their widespread use as working animals has had a lasting effect, argues food historian, Ivan Day.

“We have to remember at one point, before railways, horses were the main means of transport. You don’t eat your Aston Martin,” he says…..

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