Horsemeat is generally not eaten in Britain where a horse
loving public has traditionally viewed the idea of
consuming it with some distaste. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel
Speciality meat suppliers in Britain have seen a surge in
sales of horse burgers, with a scandal over the discovery of
horsemeat in beef burgers and ready meals apparently piquing
the curiosity of some shoppers.
Viewed as a delicacy in some European countries, in South
America and in east Asia, horsemeat is generally not eaten in
Britain where a horse loving public has traditionally viewed
the idea of consuming it with some distaste.
The discovery of horse DNA in beef burgers and spaghetti
bolognese sold by Britain's retailers, including market
leader Tesco, and in beef lasagne made by frozen foods group
Findus, has drawn widespread condemnation, with government
ministers blaming an "international criminal conspiracy".
However, extensive media coverage of the Europe-wide scandal
and an outbreak of horse jokes on twitter, e-mail and texts
has also sparked interest in the consumption of horsemeat and
other even more adventurous meats.
"While people are putting horse into their shopping cart on
the website they are also putting in things like zebra, llama
and alpaca," said Paul Webb, director of central
England-based speciality meat supplier Exotic Meats.
Horsemeat, which has a sweet, gamey flavour, is cheaper and
healthier than beef, containing half the fat, more Omega 3,
and high in protein and iron.
Though none of Britain's supermarkets sell horsemeat, it is
available through speciality meat suppliers and is on the
menu of a few notable restaurants, such as L'escargot Bleu in
Edinburgh. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has also heralded it.
Exotic Meats has seen sales of horsemeat burgers, steaks and
mince increase ten-fold since the scandal erupted on Jan. 15.
"People are inquisitive, intrigued by what it tastes like,"
said Webb, noting horsemeat products were proving popular for
dinner party hosts who wanted to provide "a good talking
Exotic Meats' horsemeat is sourced from either France, Spain
or Italy and processed in Britain by an EU approved plant.
Last week in response to the Findus scandal the firm posted
on its website a recipe for horsemeat lasagne.
Berwickshire, Scotland-based Kezie Foods, which sells
horsemeat products alongside elk, kangaroo and crocodile, has
seen horsemeat sales double over the last three weeks, with
strong demand from restaurants as well as individuals.
"Whenever you have issues to do with alternative meats you
either have people who decide that's not for them or people
who want to exercise their right to eat whatever they choose
to eat," said director Walter Murray.
For some the idea of eating horse remains abhorrent.
"For many horse owners, eating horsemeat is as repulsive a
concept as eating cat or dog," said Victoria Spicer, editor
of Horse & Country TV.
"The horse has been an integral part of Britain's history and
culture, and we owe our equine friends much more than this."
The British Retail Consortium, whose members represent 80
percent of the UK retail industry, said although there was no
evidence of consumers avoiding beef they were being more
selective in beef burger purchases, with more interest in
fresh burgers rather than frozen ones.
"What we're hearing from our members is that there hasn't
been any drastic change in customers' buying patterns as a
result of any of this because they're clear that this is not
a safety issue," said a BRC spokesman.
However, independent butchers said they have seen an upturn
in recent trade.
"Independent butchers are experiencing greater footfall at
the present time," said Roger Kelsey, CEO of the National
Federation of Meat and Food Traders, which represents
Britain's traditional high-street butchers.
"That's basically because in the eyes of the general public
local traders are a better source of supply, due to their on
site controls, because they tend to source product from local
sources and they produce their own products on site."