LONDON: In Britain, a horse is a horse - not a main course.
Tesco, the country's biggest supermarket chain, has taken out full-page newspaper advertisements to apologise for an unwanted ingredient in some of its hamburgers: horse meat.
Ten million burgers have been taken off shop shelves after the revelation that beef products from three companies in Ireland and Britain contained horse DNA. Most had only small traces, but one burger of a brand sold by Tesco had meat content that was 29 per cent horse.
The contrite grocer told customers that ''we and our supplier have let you down and we apologise''. Reaction goes beyond concerns about contaminated food. While people in some countries happily dine on equine flesh, in the land of Black Beauty and National Velvet, the idea fills many with horror.
The environment spokeswoman for the Labour Party, Mary Creagh, reflected the feelings of many when she said eating horse meat is ''strongly culturally taboo in the United Kingdom''.
She was echoing prohibitions in Western cultures going back to 732 AD, when Pope Gregory III declared horse-eating a pagan practice. Horse meat has never been a staple of European diets, but from the mid-19th century was eaten in countries including Britain as cheap food for the poor.
''It tended to be in burgers and potted meats and sausages as cheap supplementary food,'' the culinary historian Annie Gray said. ''And it wasn't always labelled, just as we're finding out at the moment.''
The sale of horse meat in Britain occurred through the Depression and World War II, when many foods were rationed.
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