European beef scare revives appetite for horse meat

May 4, 2001 Marketplace (Minnesota Public Radio)

DAVID BROWN, anchor:

You probably heard about the ruinous epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain. Well, the prime minister there, Tony Blair, says it's almost been brought to an end. The outbreak arrived on the heels of a hellish bout with mad cow disease, which has been linked to the fatal human form called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. In all, the agricultural crisis there has cost the UK an estimated $ 28 billion, and it's created a beef phobia in much of Europe. From Paris, John Lorenson reports on how the beef scare has revived an appetite for an alternative.

JOHN LORENSON reporting:

Sunday morning at a Parisian market, there are the cheese sellers and green grocers, merchants of wine and spices. Meat eaters are spoilt for choice: There are three butchers selling beef, veal, pork and lamb; two for poultry and game; and another whose shop front is painted blood red and has a bronze horse head hung over the entrance.

Business has been declining steadily for years for horse butchers such as Pierre du Gomier, but recently, he says, things have been looking up.

Mr. PIERRE Du GOMIER (Horse Butcher): (Through Translator) Sales have improved because of the mad cow crisis. In the past, it's true. We suffered quite a bit from Brigitte Bardot's animal rights people. And we've had our own problems with disease. But over the past few months, people have been rediscovering their taste for horse meat. They eat it menstra steak or roast for Sunday lunch. It's delicious. And there's nothing better for giving your red blood cells a boost.

LORENSON: In November when French fears of contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease from beef were most intense, beef sales dropped 40 percent. The latest statistics show that beef has still lost 20 percent market share; horse meat sales, on the other hand, have risen 10 percent over the last year. Part of the appeal: Horses are immune to both BSE and hoof-and-mouth disease.

I asked a few shoppers who just visited Monsieur du Gomier's Horse Meat Emporium why they chose to buy horse.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Through Translator) Oh, I buy it regularly, especially these days as you can hardly eat beef anymore, can you? What's more, horse is generally more tender than beef.

Unidentified Woman #2: I eat twice a week. I think it's good meat. It's not oily--oily--the...

LORENSON: Not fatty.

Unidentified Woman #2: Yes. But it's not because it's more sure, you know.

LORENSON: So because it's safer.

Unidentified Woman #2: Safer, yes. The--the--it's because I like it.

Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) I like it. I wouldn't eat it all the time, but I like it. It's like a beef steak but it has more taste to it.

Unidentified Woman #3: (Through Translator) I like horse a lot, as long as it's good and tender, which isn't always the case.

LORENSON: Horse butcher Du Gomier.

Mr. Du GOMIER: (Through Translator) I still have French meat, and when there isn't enough, I buy American or Canadian. They have very good meat, too. My meat comes from horses that have been raised for their meat, outdoors in the fields, drinking good water and eating good feed.

LORENSON: Europe's old horse eating tradition is then going through a revival, and along with it the revival of another ancient tradition, horse rustling. News from Italy is that over 50 horses, including thoroughbreds belonging to the army, have been stolen over the past month to supply the growing market for horse meat. In Paris, I'm John Lorenson for MARKETPLACE.

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