There's a disturbing new trend in South Florida these days ... illegal horse killing ... and it's got law enforcement officials stumped and horse owners scrambling to protect their stables. According to law enforcement officials, at least 17 butchered horse carcasses have been found in Miami-Dade county this year — the highest annual number of horse killings ever recorded — and the year's not over yet.

Apparently, illegal horse killing is not completely unheard of in the South Florida area. According to the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals, illegal horse killing used to be a rare occurrence, but now it is more prevalent as perpetrators carve up horses right on the sides of busy streets. The agency says that the increased demand for horse meat is mainly occurring in rural areas of South Florida where it is sometimes sold directly out of coolers on neighborhood street corners.

Horse meat sells for $10-$20 per pound, depending upon the cut. It is considered a delicacy in some European countries and parts of Central and South America because it is sweeter, less fatty, and higher in protein than beef. Florida law enforcement officials are not sure what exactly is driving this increased demand for horse meat.

Although not common, it is legal to sell and eat horse meat in many states across the U.S. In Florida, it is legal to sell horse meat as long as it is labeled as such. It is illegal, however, to steal horses or to slaughter them improperly (side of the road slaughter would be considered "improper.") 

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