By Nick Pisa in Rome
Horse meat, one of Italy‘s most popular culinary delicacies, is under threat from a cross party proposal to ban its sale
Italy is the largest consumer of horsemeat in Europe with more than 48,000 metric tonnes eaten every year and it is a common dish among youngsters because of its high iron content.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation 213,000 horses are slaughtered in Italy every year but now politicians from all parties are considering banning its slaughter and sale.
Francesca Martini, a minster with the Italian health ministry and a member of the ruling Right-wing coalition, has put forward the bill, arguing that the “dignity of horses should be respected”.
The motion is already on the desk of the Italian parliament’s culture commission and has won considerably cross party support with opposition centre-Left MPs also backing it.
Among those leading the call for a ban is Italy’s agriculture minister Luca Zaia who says horses should not be eaten and instead “considered just like cats and dogs”.
Mr Zaia said:”I have always been against the slaughter and consumption of horse meat. Horses are fine animals and should be treated as such, they should not be eaten.”
His support has angered people who live in his home region of Veneto, which covers Venice and Verona, where horse meat is a culinary delicacy and features in several dishes.
Horse meat is used in a stew called pastissada (typical of Verona), served as horse or colt steaks, as carpaccio, or made into bresaola.
Horse fat is used in recipes such as “pezzetti di cavallo” (pieces of horsemeat) and another favourite dish is horse in a bed of rocket, dressed with olive oil and fresh lemon juice.
Also in Veneto, horsemeat sausages called “salsiccia di equino” or salami, and thin strips of horse meat called “sfilacci” are sold and it has 8 per cent of the country’s national consumption.
According to figures from the Italian health department the average national consumption is around a kilo of horsemeat per year per person.
Italian newspaper websites carrying the report were flooded with comments from angry readers in areas such as Veneto where horsemeat is popular.
One person in Venice wrote: “Why is the government trying to abolish something that is buried in the roots of Italian culture? If it is banned it will just be driven underground and there will be a thriving black market.”
While another in Verona said: “Horse meat is part of the culinary culture of my city. Politicians are always talking about the loss of traditions but they are quite happy to get rid of this one when it suits them.”
However the proposal was welcomed by the Italian federation for equine sports and animal cruelty charities who said it was “legislation that had been long overdue”.
Horse meat has been a delicacy in Italy since the Roman times although during the Middle Ages Pope Gregory III did describe its consumption as “abominable” but his calls for it to be shunned were ignored by hungry peasants.
In 1928 a law was introduced by Benito Mussolini‘s Fascist government that only specialist horse butchers could sell equine meat and they could not stock other cuts.
In order to meet the high demand for horse meat in Italy more than 20,000 horses are imported from Poland and Eastern Europe every year.