Horse meat (or horsemeat) is the culinary name for meat cut from a horse. It is a major meat in only a few countries, notably in Central Asia, but it forms a significant part of the culinary traditions of many others, from Europe to South America to Asia. The top eight countries consume about 4.7 million horses a year. For the majority of mankind's early existence, wild horses were hunted as a source of protein. It is slightly sweet, tender and low in fat. However, because of the role horses have played as companions and as workers, and concerns about the ethics of the horse slaughter process, it is a taboo food in some cultures. These historical associations, as well as ritual and religion, led to the development of the aversion to the consumption of horse meat. The horse is now given pet status by many in some parts of the Western world, particularly in the U.S.A., United Kingdom and Ireland, which further solidifies the taboo on eating its meat.