In 2013, tons of processed beef products sold in the UK were recalled. Why? Turns out, somewhere along the line, some horse meat got into the mix. The discovery caused so much anger and uproar among consumers that the it became known as the European horse meat scandal. But why such a backlash, and indeed, resistance to eating meat from an animal that often coexists with other animals we eat?

It was forbidden by Pope Gregory III 

horse meat
The Atlantic

In 1732, Pope Gregory III instructed the missionary Boniface to spread the word. New law: No horse meat allowed. Why? A bunch of pagans were throwing a bunch of parties and serving up horse meat. Dubbed the “Devil’s meat,” the Pope condemned eating it as a “filthy and abominable custom” because of its close association with paganism. And all the horses were like, can we get a neigh-men?!

It was once the main ingredient in pet food

Horse Meat
In the Vintage Kitchen

In the 1920s, slaughterhouses started a side hustle: pet food companies. That way, they had a profitable way to dispose horse meat. The trend continued for many decades, up until at least in the 1940s, with little protest. Today, however, many pet food companies deny using horse meat for fear that it would discourage people from buying their products.

It was part of one of the highest-profile food scandals in the US

Horse Meat

Over a century before European scandal, horse meat found itself in another controversy in 1899. American soldiers fighting in the Spanish-American War ended up being poisoned by canned meat rationed to the troops. The controversy was so serious that the US military convened a beef court to get to the bottom of it. Many people speculated that the contaminated beef was actually horse meat.

Americans accepted horse meat during World War I

Horse Meat

While Americans reviled eating horse meat, they changed their tune when the prices of beef rose during World War I. Because of the rise in demand, Congress authorized the Department of Agriculture to provide official inspection stamps for American horse meat. In 2007, the funding for inspecting horse meat was rescinded and eating horse meat fell out of fashion once again.

Horse meat is consumed regularly in many countries.