Horse Tartar & Toxoplasmosis

I know…it was hard to write so I imagine y’all had a gut reaction to even reading the gruesome image embedded in that title.  According to a CDC (Centers for Disease Control) report, (Vol. 17, No. 7, July 2011) raw horsemeat causes death from something called toxoplasmosis due to the T. gondii parasite.  ‘Why would anyone eat raw meat, period?’ I hear you asking.  Apparently, in France, it is common practice to eat raw horsemeat, considered to be good for one’s health (that’s what I was told, too, when, as a child, I was made to swallow cod liver oil).  There is no accounting for era-specific and culture-specific traditions, it seems.

The report analyzes three cases of disease (in one case, foetal death) traced to horsemeat imported from Canada and Brazil (in one case, the origin of the horsemeat ingested could not be determined).  The first two patients were studied in March and December, respectively, in 2009; the third was evaluated retrospectively and had occurred in 1991.

I’ve no doubt that clinical studies are virtually always conducted with such rigour, and this one is laudable in its Sherlockian discovery that the horsemeat had to have come from Canada and Brazil, rather than from domestically raised horses.  Since there are different recognized strains of the T. gondii parasite, and some are rarely found in France, and it was one of those rare ones which killed the first patient studied, the clinicians deduced “contamination by a non-European strain [in the horsemeat], either during residence abroad or after ingestion of imported meat.”  The likelihood was further strengthened by their interrogation of patient one’s and patient two’s families, entourage and local butchers (as mentioned above the origin of the horsemeat ingested by patient three remained undetermined).

In the third case, patient 3 was a 21-year-old pregnant woman. Routine testing at 22 weeks’ gestation showed T. gondii parasite infection.  At 26 weeks, the pregnancy was terminated due to severe “fetal abnormalities” which, upon necropsy, revealed T. gondii as the cause.  The woman was sick for three years thereafter with an illness also attributed to toxoplasmosis parasites.

The paper concludes that “human toxoplasmosis cases associated with horse meat consumption are rarely reported but are probably underestimated…” and “[r]isk assessment for toxoplasmosis from horses slaughtered for food and imported into the European Union…is urgently needed.”

I urge everyone to read this report in its entirety, and especially look up its impressive sources (footnoted).  I first read about this in an EWA alert where it was cited by Gail Vacca, Illinois Equine Humane Center.

Submit a Comment