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Filler: Horse. It's what's for dinner

Vegetarians can argue that eating horses is wrong.

Vegetarians can argue that eating horses is wrong. Carnivores trying to make the same case, though, are meatheads. Credit: iStock

A horse is a horse, but a main course? Of course!

I don't want to eat any Steakatariats or Seabiscuits, but I can't make a coherent moral argument against others doing it, and my boss has asked me to refrain from the incoherent moral arguments for a bit.

There hasn't been much debate over whether it's OK to eat horse in the United States in my lifetime, and there's been even less of one since 2007, when the federal government defunded the inspection of horse meat plants, making it illegal to commercially slaughter horses for human consumption.

But that funding was restored in 2011, and now a plant in Roswell, N.M., is close to beginning legal production. Operations in Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee and Oklahoma are also seeking approval to set up shop.

This is the second big chunk of horsemeat news in six months. The first was in Europe, where horse showed up in foods where it wasn't supposed to be, including IKEA meatballs.

But now the outcry has been unleashed here, in a nation where horses are beloved, eating equines is not a tradition, and poverty is not rampant enough to make every living organism look like a rump roast. Cognizant of that, these plants intend to sell the Man O' Warwiches elsewhere.

Standing in their way is a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture by humane societies and animal-rights organizations, and the likelihood that Congress will again defund the inspections, which President Barack Obama's budget for next year also eliminates.

So the ado being stirred up may be about nothing. Yet the issues involved are fascinating.

Does a moral outcry against eating horse make sense? It does for those who oppose eating all animals. That's a completely respectable stance. I don't feel it myself, but I do occasionally wonder if that's an amoral reality: Perhaps I like triple cheeseburgers too much to soul-search the breeding, imprisoning and slaughtering of feeling creatures to provide me with meaty deliciousness.

But when the subject of eating the animals we deem too charming to chew comes up -- around the grill, among people who happily consume some animals but not others -- the hypocrisy can be harder to stomach than a poodle-and-potato pie when the poodle hasn't been marinated right.

Yes, horses are strong, noble, beautiful animals, and we fell in love with them in "The Black Stallion" and "Black Beauty" and the ninth race at Aqueduct. The idea of eating them is disturbing.

But cows are nice, too. They have big, friendly eyes. If you go stand by their pasture with your elbows on the fence, just thinking, they'll come stand right by you and keep you company until you sort it all out. A cow will not judge you.

Then there are deer, and the "I don't eat Bambi" protest. (Oddly, you never meet anyone who quit eating pork after seeing "Babe" or "Charlotte's Web," although I swore off spider.) What's more lovely than a doe and her fawn grazing then, startled, dashing off? Yet many people who would rave at the idea of eating horse enjoy venison.

We all know most of the animals humans eat are cognizant. Most of us eat them anyway.

But we don't eat all of them.

I don't want to eat dog. I'm pretty sure if I did, Rosie, my Boston terrier, would find out about it, and give me the look.

I don't want to eat cat, although they give me the look regardless, nor monkeys nor dolphins nor any fish species that's ever had a featured role in an animated film.

But I'm not claiming these animals deserve to be spared more than the ones I do happily nibble. A cultural preference is not a moral imperative.

Vegetarians can argue that eating horses is wrong. Carnivores making the same case, though? They're meatheads.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.