food / travel

"You'd Think We're Selling Rat Meat!" Tough Times For Europe's Horse Butchers

Horse sausage anyone?
Horse sausage anyone?
Elisa Britzelmeier

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.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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