"You'd Think We're Selling Rat Meat!" Tough Times For Europe's Horse Butchers
MUNICH - Horsemeat passed off as beef – across Europe, the food scandal continues to make headlines.
On the food circuit in Munich, at Kaspar Wörle’s horsemeat butcher shop, it hasn’t caused much of a stir – except for the fact that the phone has been ringing uninterruptedly since the scandal broke. "People want information," sighs staffer Emilia Ramirez. She has been working at Munich’s only horsemeat butcher shop for two years. "Some of them are so outraged over the trickery, they take it out on us. The way they act, you’d think we were selling rat meat! But our meat is prime meat." She’s also sure of one thing: their loyal customers are not going to be put off by all the hoopla.
And indeed the issue is not horsemeat – it’s passing meat off as beef when it is actually horse. Consumers are being tricked. Then of course, for many, horse is one animal that should not end up on a plate. "I certainly wouldn’t eat it. A horse is a beautiful, noble animal," says a passerby. Another says: "In our culture, horse is more of a work animal, or a pet."
But customers inside the horse butcher’s have a different opinion. "I don’t know why people in Germany make such a fuss about it. They should go to Italy or France, where eating horsemeat isn’t out of the ordinary at all," says one woman as she packs her purchase into her shopping bag. "I’ve been coming here for 20 years,” says another satisfied customer. Wörle’s, which has been in existence since 1889, says it isn’t selling any less horsemeat than usual as a result of the scandal. According to Eurostat, it is estimated that Germany’s per capita consumption of horsemeat amounts to an average of 40 grams (1.4 oz) per year.
Quality, healthy meat
Emilia Ramirez vouches for the quality of the meat she sells. They have their own abattoir in Wiedenzhausen on the outskirts of Munich, so the cuts of meat are their own and they make their own horse sausages. Horsemeat, she says, is less fatty, has less cholesterol, and more iron, than pork or beef. There is no mass production of horsemeat. The animals aren’t raised for meat – they are mostly injured or old riding horses. During periods when few such animals are slaughtered, there is less horsemeat available on the market.
At 29.99 euros per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of filet, and 21.99 euros for a kilo of sirloin, horsemeat retails in the same ballpark as beef. Horsemeat recipes on the butcher shop’s website include hamburgers with devil sauce, horsemeat and eggplant ragout, herb steaks, and black pepper or onion roasts. A customer favorite is the "knacker," a sausage that can also be served warm and is eaten with a roll or potato salad. To many in Munich, the sausage is a tradition.
Wörle’s customers vary widely, from teenagers to the elderly, Asian tourists and the curious who just want to give horsemeat a try.
Owner Kaspar Wörle says he’s at a loss to explain how horsemeat could end up in beef lasagna. He says he gets all the horses directly from their owners, but that they have to be checked over by a vet first. All medication the animal is receiving has to be recorded. "It’s probably more difficult to keep track in other countries," one customer in the store opines.
"It’s simply a mass production problem," says master butcher Wörle – “pure labeling fraud.” He adds that he can’t understand why frozen ready-meals are so popular. He himself believes in easily traceable, local foods.