The princess, who is president of the World Horse Welfare charity, noted that horse owners might take better care of their horses if they knew they could sell them for meat at the end of the animal’s lives.
Speaking at a World Horse Welfare conference on Thursday, the princess said, “If that's true then, that they value their horses, they look after them well, because they're in the horsemeat trade … should we be considering a real market for horsemeat, and would that reduce the number of welfare cases if there was a real value in the horsemeat sector? I chuck that out for what it's worth because I think it needs a debate.”
Princess Anne noted that in France a fillet of horsemeat was the most expensive cut of meat on the local market.
Meanwhile, the Horse Trust is warning that 7,000 horses and ponies in Britain are at risk of abandonment and neglect this winter.
Animal rights groups were appalled by Princess Anne’s comments.
"Horses, especially among her social set, are supposed to be cherished, yet she wants to treat them as disposable livestock. What next? The Queen's corgis?" Andrew Tyler, director of animals right group Animal Aid, said in a Daily Express article.
"The production, trade and slaughter of hundreds of millions of other farm animals such as chickens, pigs and cows does not stop them being mistreated and abused,” he added.
But horse welfare advocates welcomed the debate.
Treating horses and ponies with care and compassion “is the core issue,” Roly Owers, of World Horse Welfare, told BBC News.
“We are in the grip of a UK equine crisis and we need to look at all options of solving that.”