Compassionate people were taken aback - to say the least - by Princess Anne's extraordinary pronouncement on Thursday that horses' welfare could be improved by eating them. What should we expect next from the Royals? Will the Queen suggest we eat corgi sandwiches?
The Princess Royal's argument, which she put forward in a speech to the charity World Horse Welfare, is that people would look after their horses more carefully if they were planning to turn them into steaks and burgers later on. However, in our experience, any animal used for food is much more likely to be treated with disrespect than with respect. Given the regular exposés of mistreated pigs and chickens raised for food, it's absurd to think people would take better care of horses if there were a market for their meat.
If Princess Anne truly cares about the welfare of horses, perhaps she'd do better to campaign for an end to the cruel horse-racing industry, which forces horses to run at breakneck speed on hard tracks and, after they can no longer compete, often transports them to slaughterhouses in hideous conditions to be turned into cheap dog food. More than half of the foals bred for racing never make it onto the track and often face abandonment and neglect. The rational response to the crisis in horse welfare is to address these root causes, rather than advocating that these sensitive animals be dispatched to the abattoir.
Princess Anne does have a point, though - that all animals are made of the same flesh, blood and bone. When it comes to suffering, there is no difference between a horse and a cow or a horse and a corgi or any other animal; we all have the same capacity to feel fear and pain, and we share the same desire to live, have families, and do what is meaningful and important to us.
It is prejudice and prejudice alone that allows us to protect certain species, to take them into our homes and make them part of our families, while treating others as mere commodities. All animals are someone, not something to put on a plate. Cows, for example, are gentle, intelligent animals who form strong social bonds and have a strict hierarchy in their herd. They are inquisitive and have even been known to have eureka moments, and yet on factory farms they are denied everything that is natural and enjoyable to them.
Pigs are in many ways smarter than dogs, and their intelligence level certainly surpasses that of a three-year-old human child. But on today's factory farms, they are crammed by the thousands into filthy windowless sheds, rarely if ever going outside. The first time they are likely to feel the sun on their backs or breathe fresh air is when they are loaded onto trucks bound for slaughter.
But possessing superior intelligence isn't even the point here. Being brainy does not entitle one human to abuse another human, nor should it entitle humans to abuse nonhumans. Irrespective of their species, every living being with a will to live should have a right to live free from pain and suffering.
People were outraged to discover that they might have been eating horses for years. But people would also be outraged if they saw for themselves the filthy, crowded conditions on today's factory farms, which the vast majority of the one billion land animals and fish killed and eaten in the UK every year are raised in. Paul McCartney put it best when he said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian".
The ongoing horsemeat debate does serve a purpose for people who care about animals: it's an opportunity to question underlying assumptions about why certain species are loved and cherished as individuals, while others are spurned and seen simply as pieces of meat.
If eating horses appals you (as it should), then don't eat any animals - go vegetarian. More and more people in the UK are doing just that: a YouGov survey just last week revealed that one in six young Britons are now choosing a meat-free diet.
Princess Anne's comments may be deeply misguided, but perhaps they will encourage more of the public to ask themselves, if it's not all right to eat horses, then why eat cows, lambs, pigs, chickens or any other animals?