Europeans Turn to Horse d'Oeuvres

While mad cow and foot-and-mouth madness swirl around them, there are an increasing number of European families putting red meat on the table for supper without fear.

Their solution to the conflict between disease fears and a hearty meal? Horsemeat.

As the continent is forced to give up its traditional meat-based favorites such as steak tartare, spaghetti Bolognese and schnitzel, many are getting their meat fix from a horse of a different flavor. Because horses don't carry foot-and-mouth disease - which can't be transmitted to humans - or mad cow disease - which can be fatal - Europeans are champing at the bit for platter-bound ponies from Canada and the U.S.

In the U.S., horsemeat exporters are getting twice the amount they did a year ago. In Shipshewana, Ind., horsemeat fetches about 70 cents a pound these days, a typical horse going for $500 to $800.

In Europe, where coarse but sweet horsemeat has long been considered a delicacy in some countries, Michel Beaubois, president of the French Federation of Horse Butchers, told The Christian Science Monitor that horsemeat sales were up 89 percent since October. The French butcher's association also reported that the country was taking in 150 tons of the stuff a week from Quebec alone.

There's even a thriving black market in equine edibles. The Times of London reported on March 30 that a rise in horse thefts outside Rome was being blamed on the frenzy for horsemeat, including 50 of the animals being raised for the army.

"We are sure these horses have ended up on the butcher's slab and supermarket shelves," a police spokesman said.

At the Indiana meat market, farmers see it as a chance to auction off their old, ill and unwanted horses to slaughterhouses.

"I sold one," horse trader Ron Wray said. "She was 25 years old. She's been a good horse, but she was just getting too old and hard to take care of."

Auction house owner Keith Lambright was less sentimental.

"They're going to be put down anyhow," he said. "Why not get paid for him?"