Giddy Up! Horses for Main Courses

While scandal continues to swirl in Britain over horsemeat discovered fraudulently swapped for beef in ready-made meals, Kiwis are going out of their way to knowingly buy and eat horse.

Chopped up and bagged horsemeat intended for pet food is sold in South Auckland's Saturday morning Mangere Market.

But people are buying it to eat themselves.

Olive Fahamokioa bought an 18kg box worth $50 yesterday, enough to last her extended family of 10 for a month.

She let the Sunday Star-Times try some. Our verdict? A rich flavour, sweet and delicate. Quite different from the mundane lamb or beef.

After cutting the meat into 600- to 800-gram slabs, Fahamokioa oven-roasted the horse on high at 250 degreesC for more than an hour. She then shredded it and added salt, onions and coconut cream, wrapping it in tinfoil to boil until soft.

The result?A popular Pacific dish known as lo'i hosi, which is eaten at community gatherings.

Fahamokioa said it's leaner and healthier than pork, and her grandchildren love it.

But the meals Fahamokioa feeds her family are potentially dangerous as the meat is not regulated for human consumption.

Yet it was almost sold out when the Sunday Star-Times visited the Mangere Market at 8am yesterday.

Like a number of Pacific, Asian and Indian customers of the horsemeat traders at the markets, Fahamokioa has no problem eating unsafe meat.

"It's just from a farm in Tuakau," she said. "You can pick it up there."

Gillard Meat Processors, a pet food company, supplies the Mangere Market with horsemeat.

The stall vendor, who wanted to be known only as Annie, said it's up to customers if they want to eat pet food.

Individuals caught selling pet food as being fit for human consumption can be fined up to $100,000 and companies $500,000.

But unlike the European scandal, where horsemeat turned up in products labelled beef, there is no pretence here: signs clearly state the meat is for pets. That means selling the horsemeat is legal, Mangere Market marketing manager Roy Bagshaw said.

"If people want to go to the supermarket and buy a can of cat meat to eat, you can't do anything about it."

Pet food stalls are not subject to the strict hygiene regulations required of food stalls.

Yet it's understandable why lower-income families take the risk, Tongan Advisory Council member Melino Maka said.

He wants to prevent people selling lo'i hosi to innocent consumers at community events, and to children. "That really is the worst part. I've asked people, do you really know what you're eating? But people deny it. It's been going on for decades. I'm fighting a losing battle."

The Ministry for Primary Industries attempted a crackdown on sales of lo'i hosi in 2009 but failed to find enough evidence to prosecute vendors.

Animals slaughtered for human consumption are subject to strict controls under New Zealand law to ensure antibiotic, fertility treatment and worming medicine residues don't enter the food supply.

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Animals slaughtered for pet food don't go through the same procedures.

There are 16 companies in New Zealand allowed to process horsemeat for pet food, though most don't.

The Sunday Star-Times is aware of just one horsemeat processor, Clover Exports in Gore, which produces horsemeat for humans - but only for export.

Last year 392,120kg of horsemeat was sent from New Zealand's knacker yards, almost $2 million worth. The bulk was exported to Russia and Belgium, with Switzerland, Holland, Japan, Papua New Guinea and America also eating our retired horses.

In New Zealand, French and Italian chefs cannot satiate their hankerings for horse due to a lack of consumer demand.

Sunday Star-Times food writer and chef Ray McVinnie visited a horse butcher in Padua, Italy, where he learned attitudes to the beasts differ greatly from home.

He didn't try horsemeat, but his Italian colleagues describe it as "sweet" and "very lean and delicate, a bit like prosciutto".

Horsemeat can be eaten raw as a tartare mixed with herbs, as well as steaks or sausages mixed with donkey.

"It's funny, the Italian butchers were lovely and had nice pictures, paintings and ornaments of horses on their walls," McVinnie said.

"Culturally, it's shocking for a lot of people. People are outraged but then they sit down to a tiny lamb cutlet. It doesn't make any sense."

The real shock was horsemeat was sold off as beef in Britain, he said. "It's a horrible thing that people were tricked. There needs to be more awareness about what's in our food."

- Sunday Star Times


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