Horse Slaughter: A French Butcher's Perspective


VIDEO | Campaigns designed to stop the consumption of horsemeat and American slaughterhouse closings have caused some need for supply chain reorganization, but business is better than it has been in years for Parisian horsemeat butcher Jean-Michel Bernard.

A veteran butcher for more than 30 years after starting off in a small slaughterhouse in Angers, and now on the brink of retirement, Bernard said he has seen the French horsemeat business slowly decline and then level off during his career. But business in this working-class residential neighborhood on the city's eastern borders has kept its four local horsemeat butchers, including Bernard, humming with customers, and recent anti-horsemeat demonstrations, debates, posters, and paraphernalia have made no difference to the clientele.


"Ban horsemeat?" said Dominique Cambarrad, one of at least 15 customers questioned Tuesday (Jan. 8) morning, none of whom had heard of the anti-hippophagia campaigns in progress. "I'm really shocked by such an idea. It's an animal like any other. If we can eat cattle and sheep and pigs, why not horses? I don't understand."

Nearly all the customers, however, had heard of the American slaughterhouse closings. "Now we're getting Canadian horses instead," said Marietta Molle, who comes in regularly to buy horsemeat on the advice of her doctor because of its lower fat and cholesterol content.

"No, they're still American horses," Bernard replied. "Now they just have to go through Canada first, or Mexico. It was a little bit difficult at first, getting reorganized with our suppliers, but now everything's running smoothly. We're still getting just as much meat as before."

Having run at a steady 0.4 kg per habitant per year for the previous four years, French horsemeat consumption is actually on the rise this year with an estimated increase of 3%, according to Timoth� Masson, director of Interbev Equins, an organization that represents French horsemeat industries. Approximately 85% of French horsemeat is imported, and until 2007, 37% of these imports came from the United States. Official 2007 statistics for the French horsemeat industry will be released in mid-2008, he said.

"We do business with Argentina, Canada, Belgium," Masson said. "So it was really just a matter of restructuring more than anything else, getting the other countries to fill in the gaps caused by the American slaughterhouse closings. But we knew in advance that this was coming, so our butchers have been able to prepare for this over the past two years."

Anti-hippophagia campaigns have had essentially no effect on horsemeat consumption nationally, according to Masson. People who do see the materials "don't respond well to their aggressive nature" and don't generally acknowledge "the link between horse slaughter and the mistreatment of animals," he said. "On the contrary, people know that we work very hard to ensure the well-being of the animals."

Bernard said that he is aware of the anti-hippophagia campaigns but has not had protesters or posters set up close to his shop.

And with one exception, animal is animal for this good-natured butcher who has become such a familiar face to the many horsemeat clients over the years. Having tried meat from nearly every kind of animal available for consumption, including dog meat, he has no qualms about killing most animals for food. His one weakness? Lambs. "I could never eat a little lamb again," he said. "They're just too sweet and precious."

In a few months' time, Bernard's shop will pass into the hands of a new horsemeat butcher. And Bernard will for the first time observe the horsemeat debate from the standpoint of the comfortable spectator.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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