Horse meat was in the news last week when a study found some stores selling it as beef. But while not popular domestically, the product is actually exported to seven countries around the world where it is considered a delicacy.
More than 2.6 million kilograms of horse meat, graded as high-quality, reached foreign shores last year with Russia, Hong Kong, Egypt, Japan, Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Belgium among the customers.
There are 11 federally-certified slaughterhouses that have permission to kill horses for their meat, according to information from the Agriculture and Livestock Secretariat (Sagarpa).
Located in the states of Aguascalientes, Coahuila, Chihuahua and Zacatecas, the abattoirs slaughtered just over 128,000 horses last year.
Some of the product ended up in in Japan where a raw horse meat dish called basashi is considered a delicacy while in Europe the flesh is consumed in a variety of traditional recipes. In Kazakhstan its consumption is closely linked to the population’s nomadic roots.
At least some horse meat also ends up on dinner plates in Mexico although in most cases its consumption might occur unwittingly.
A study conducted by the National Autonomous University and published last week found that almost 10% of beef samples taken from meat markets in five cities turned out to be horse meat.
Three of the cities where the meat was detected — Aguascalientes, Zacatecas and Chihuahua — are located in states where abattoirs are legally slaughtering the animals.
In the wake of the revelation that horse is being sold off as beef, producers of the latter have called on authorities to tighten controls in order to avoid that consumers are deceived.
“The consumer has the right to know what meat they are buying,” said Enrique López, the head of AMEG, a national beef producers’ association.
“Authorities must do the work to check that another [kind of] meat is not being given to the consumer. The sale of horse meat isn’t prohibited but it’s not regulated for commercialization [aimed at] human consumption in the country . . .” he added.
While many consumers were shocked to find out that they may have been sold and consequently eaten horse meat inadvertently, if properly produced following normal sanitary guidelines it poses no danger to health and in fact is both highly nutritious and low in fat.
Nevertheless, the probability that taco stands will start offering tacos de caballo (horse tacos) — openly, at least — alongside tacos al pastor or tacos de bistec remains low.
However, according to a 2015 telephone poll some people may have already eaten them.
A national survey carried out by the consultancy Gabinete de Comunicación Estratégica found that 71.8% of Mexicans who eat tacos in the street believe that there are stands that use not only horse meat in their tacos but dog meat as well.