South Florida is seeing a jump in the horse meat market as restaurants quietly serve up the illicit fare, butchers provide it to trustworthy customers and police officers find slaughtered horse carcasses on roadsides.
At least 17 butchered horse carcasses have been found in Miami-Dade County this year, the highest annual number ever recorded in the county and the year is not over, said Detective Edna Hernandez.
Worried horse owners are organizing watches to patrol their stables, police said.
“It was much more of a hidden thing before,” said Richard “Kudo” Couto of the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “People are getting more brazen now. They’re doing the carving right on the sides of streets.”
Selling and eating horse meat is legal in many states. In Florida, selling horse meat is legal if it is “stamped, marked and described as horse meat for human consumption.” It is illegal to steal the horses or slaughter them improperly.
Miami-Dade police arrested two men last month and charged them with burglary and animal cruelty in connection with the slaughter of two horses. The county’s Agricultural Patrol Unit is investigating more cases.
Couto said there has long been an underground market for illicit horse meat, mostly in the rural areas of South Florida. In recent years, sales have become more widespread, he said.
He said some butchers in Miami have stolen frozen horse meat in their stores for trustworthy customers. Sometimes the meat is sold in neighborhoods out of coolers.
The meat sells for $10-$20 a pound depending on the cut. It can be as high as $40 a pound when supply is short.
Couto said some Miami restaurants serve horse meat, which is considered to be sweeter, less fatty and higher in protein than beef. In European countries such as France, Italy and Belgium, the meat is seen as a delicacy.
It is also eaten widely in Central and South America, where it is believed to have medicinal value, Couto said.
Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, said much of the demand is likely from Cubans immigrating to South Florida.
Beef is a rarity in Cuba, so Cubans often turn to equine dishes such as tasajo, which is made with cured horse meat.
However, people from many other Latin American and Caribbean countries also live in Florida.
“It may be Haitians,” Suchlicki said. “There are a lot of Nicaraguans in Miami. A lot of Argentines.”