London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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Stepney 1909

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Stepney]

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On an average 8 horses are required to be boiled down to produce one ton of
catsmeat. The flesh loses about one-third in the process, so that to supply the
existent demand, between 1,000 to 1,100 horses are required every week.
About 10 tons of horseflesh used to be brought into London every week from
Glasgow and other parts of Scotland. This trade has now diminished to less than
one-half, owing, I am credibly informed, to the fact that in Scotland, horseflesh is
pickled and exported to Sweden and other Continental countries.
Several years ago, at a time when there was a glut of horseflesh on the
London market, an East End firm attempted, under official supervision, to carry on
a similar trade. Some of the meat was pickled and some smoked. It had soon to
be given up, as it was found that the price obtained for it on the Continent was
not much more than could be obtained in London, when it was sold as catsmeat.
It is true that it was possible to convert the pickled portions into sausages, but it
would be impossible to utilise the smoked portion in this manner. An attempt
was also made to salt and afterwards to smoke horse tongues, and sell them as
Reindeer tongues, but this did not prove a success, because horse tongues were
found to be too thick to be passed off as Reindeer tongues, although bearing a
general resemblance to them. The difference between horse tongues and ox tongues
is so great as to be obvious to any one, and it is almost impossible for the horse
tongues to be sold as human food when they are fresh. The tongue of the horse
is longer, narrower, and more pliant than that of the cow. The surface is smooth
while that of the ox is comparatively rough. The end of the tongue of the horse
is broad, while that of the ox tapers almost to a point. Of course it is a much
simpler matter to distinguish horse tongue from that of the ox when fresh than
after salting.
Apart from other marked differences, horseflesh is drier than ordinary cooked
meat, and it is most unappetising in appearance. Horse meat in general has a
dark red colour, which assumes a bluish sheen on the surface after lying for a
long time. It is stated that in cooking and on the addition of sulphuric acid,
the distinctive odour of the horse stable is developed. I have been unable to obtain
this myself, for although the odour is distinctive enough, it is of a very disagreeable
character and quite different to that given off when any other kind of meat is
treated in the same way. The fat of the horse is light golden in colour and
more oily. In cattle the breast-bone is broad and flattened, while in the horse
the front portion is keel-shaped. The ribs in cattle are flatter and broader in the
middle and lower third than in the horse.
It will therefore be seen that the difference between horsflesh and beef are so
marked and distinctive that raw horseflesh exposed for sale in butchers shops would

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