Many people are aghast at the prospect of horses being slaughtered for meat, a practice which made headlines last week when the U.S. moved to reinstate it after several dormant years.

Many Americans, and Canadians, had no idea horse slaughter occurred in the first place.

But, in fact, it takes place often, and right under our noses, despite the cultural shock associated with eating horsemeat.

Most North Americans don’t have an appetite for it. With some exceptions, horses are seldom viewed as food animals. For the most part, the public sees them as athletes, beasts of burden, or companion animals.

But North America doesn’t have a monopoly on global food menus. Elsewhere – Europe and Asia, for example – horsemeat consumption is not unusual. At one time, about 140,000 horses were slaughtered in the U.S. each year. Then, in 2006, horse slaughter stopped. The American government was under pressure by activists to ban it.

But instead of being slaughtered in the U.S., they’ve been shipped to horse slaughter-friendly Mexico and Canada. From 2006 through 2010, U.S. horse exports for slaughter increased by nearly 150 per cent to Canada and more than 650 per cent to Mexico.

Finally, earlier last month, the U.S. government very quietly reinstated federal inspection at horse slaughter facilities, after accepting a report from its own accountability office that suggested the alternative to slaughter — that is, abandonment and neglect — was worse.

I talk about this issue in my Urban Cowboy column in the Guelph Mercury.