Horse meat test

The Breton horse breed is under threat but breeders think there is a way to keep it going – if more people in France eat the meat.

This powerful and sturdy draft horse has long been used for transport, on the battlefield and for field work. However, while some are still in use on small farms and for collecting seaweed, many stand idle and the breed is in danger of dying out. Population has fallen by 50% over the last decade.

"In order to preserve the genetic diversity of a breed, a certain number of births are needed, warned André Plessis, president of the Breton Horse Breeders' Union.

Roman coins found at Langrolay-sur-Rance villa in Brittany
Roman coins found at Langrolay-sur-Rance villa in Brittany

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Mr Plessis believe there are some long-term solutions: to inspire French people to add horse meat to their dinner plates and to continue to grow exports to places such as Japan.

Breeders face a difficult task to convince the French meat-eating public. Equine meat (viande chevaline) has always been a staple of the French diet but consumption is at an all-time low of just 300g per person each year - a tiny amount when compared to the 32kg of pork that the average French person consumed in 2015.

Availability is another issue. While you can still find selected cuts of horse meat in the aisles of some French supermarkets, and the occasional specialist butcher in rural towns, it is a rarity. And what meat you do find is usually imported from Poland or the US.

This is what Mr Plessis wants to address. "Rather than importing without traceability, we would like to see French production prioritised," he said.

To regain ground in the domestic market, the sector is reorganising itself to attract large-scale retailers.

It also aims to conquer new consumer markets, especially in the land of the rising sun. "The Japanese have been supplying themselves for the past year in France. Horse meat is a very sought-after meal there, served in luxury restaurants," added Mr Plessis.

There is also the question of inclination. Even on the Breton Horse Breeders' Union’s website they state: “Why not say it – horse as a ‘meat’ product offends people’s sensibilities.”

Horse meat was in the headlines in France in 2013 after scandals involving its use in ready meals and trafficking.

Langrolay-sur-Rance villa - a view of the baths
Langrolay-sur-Rance villa - a view of the baths
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