Horsemeat Supply and Demand in Europe

Horsemeat Supply and Demand in Europe

As the European scandal unfolds and fraudulent horsemeat sales decrease, horsemeat supply could exceed demand.

Photo: Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

In Amsterdam this week, beef steaks on a steakhouse menu were discovered to actually be 100% horse steaks. The steakhouse owner claims he had no idea, although his supplier says they've been providing him horse steaks for the past 10 years in packages that have pictures of horses on them, according to the Dutch news source Metro.

While European officials continue to uncover more and more cases of meat-swapping in groceries stores, restaurants, and perhaps even public institutions, politicians are trying to find out how so much fraud slipped past them and how to stop it.

But a greater question faces the horse industry: Once the crisis is over, where will all the horsemeat go? And more importantly, what will happen to the horses meant for slaughter if supply becomes greater than demand?

According to an October 2012 study of horsemeat consumption in three European countries where the practice is culturally accepted--the Netherlands, Belgium, and France--people just aren't eating as much horsemeat as might be expected. Or, at least, they don't intend to.

As few as 4% of French study respondents and 6% of Belgian respondents said they "often" eat horsemeat, according to the retail investigation led by the Humane Society International (HSI). And only 16% of the French and 20% of the Belgian respondents said they would even "sometimes" eat horsemeat.

Eurostat statistics indicate that Belgium imports more than 20 million kilograms (more than 44 million pounds) of horse and donkey meat per year--mostly from North America--to a country with a population of only 11 million people. France imports more than 15 million kilograms (more than 33 million pounds), with a population of 65 million people. Domestically, Belgium processed 9,613 horses in 2011; France slaughtered 16,970. Even so, some of these imports could be exported back out of the country again through trade.

The French national stud has reported a general decrease in horsemeat consumption over the past eight years despite a steady per-kilo price on adult Warmblood horses going to slaughter, at about €2.5 (about $3.33) per kilogram of carcass (60% of live weight). Adult draft horse prices have dropped slightly.

Market demand appears to continue despite the fact that relatively few Europeans believe they are consuming horsemeat, said HSI European Union Director Joanna Swabe, PhD. "The meat has to be going somewhere," she told The Horse.

In The Netherlands and Belgium, several low-cost meat snacks and party products actually contain up to 29% horsemeat, according to the HSI retail study. The products are not advertised or packaged as horsemeat; however, horsemeat is listed as an ingredient on the back of the package, the report stated.

"Certainly when a tray of such meat snacks is passed around at a social gathering, those who partake of them are unlikely to be aware of their composition," Swabe said.

In addition to these legal uses of horsemeat, investigators are continuing to discover prepared frozen meat meals in which horsemeat has been fraudulently substituted for beef in several European countries. The actual volumes of the horsemeat in question have not yet been released.

As the European scandal unfolds and fraudulent horsemeat sales decrease, horsemeat supply could exceed demand. "From a welfare prospective, I hope that's the case," said Swabe. Even so, dealing with unwanted horses in eastern European countries that might not even be wanted by slaughterhouses could be a challenge for welfare organizations, she added.

"We have several programs in the planning and early stages in places like Romania," Swabe said. "But with this scandal outbreak, we could find ourselves with the cart before the horse, so to speak."

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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