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And the horse meat debate gallops on

A butcher cuts into horse meat in France. In the U.S., a proposed budget bill continues to prohibit the slaughter of horses for food.

Horse meat has now turned up in grocery stores in the U.K. and in meatballs from Ikea. And now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is talking about approving a horse slaughterhouse in New Mexico -- the first in the country in more than five years.

The unease many feel about horses as food is not new, as Colin Schultz recently wrote about for Smithsonian Magazine.

He takes a look back to Paris, circa 1870. The city was sieged by the Prussian army, who promptly cut off supply lines to the city. Parisians hesitantly, but out of desperation, turned to eating whatever they could find -- dogs, cats and yes, horse. But as it turns out, some developed a taste for the equine option.

And that created a bit of a stir in the international community. Some countries wondered if horse meat was something they should try. In 1875, the magazine Scientific American made the economic case for eating horses. They calculated that eating horses at the end of their life would add an estimated $30 million to the economy, in 1875 dollars.

But, Schultz says, it's not surprising Americans didn't take to the idea. "There's a real strong American ethos against it. You sort of see horses as companions, you see horses as pets. Even at the time, horses as tools but there was still that sort of iconic old-west imagery of the horse. You don't want to then eat that horse."

By now, American culture is pretty firmly against eating horses. And Schultz says that economic argument for eating horses in 2012 is kind of moot because horses don't serve the same purpose in the American economy. "Like if we could start eating cars, that would be the same argument."

And, of course, a Prussian siege is unlikely.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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