The culinary competition show "Top Chef Canada" finally aired its highly controversial episode involving a contestant being asked to prepare a dish using horse meat.

In the episode that aired Monday, contestants were told to cook traditional French dishes, including foie gras -- which is itself sometimes controversial -- and horse meat.

Ahead of the episode, many took to the Internet to express their rage after learning that the May 16 episode would feature horse meat on the menu.

Protesters filled the show's Facebook page with vitriol, with some calling for a "Top Chef" boycott, and others offering links to anti-horse meat websites.

A Facebook group called "Boycott Top Chef -- Protect the Horses" also sprang up, with administrators offering advice on how to contact the show's advertisers and the network's executives. The page currently has more than 5,300 followers.

Some posters insisted eating horse meat was akin to eating pets, while others wondered whether it was any worse ethically than eating any other kind of meat. Some also argued that the butchering of horse meat is insufficiently regulated in Canada.

In a statement posted on the "Top Chef Canada" Facebook page, Food Network Canada responded by saying it realized that the use of horse meat in the episode has generated controversy, but it said it was trying to create an episode involving "a truly authentic, traditional French menu."

"One of the most traditional French foods is horse meat. Horse meat is also considered a delicacy in many cultures around the world," the statement read.

"While we understand that this content may not appeal to all viewers, Food Network Canada aims to engage a wide audience, embracing different food cultures in our programming."

In another statement issued early Monday evening, the network assured viewers that "the horse meat along with all protein featured in this episode was federally approved and meets HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) standards."

It also pledged to "carefully consider all the facts around this topic should horse meat be suggested for any future production."

Horse meat, which is said to be slightly sweet and tender, is widely eaten in parts of Asia, Europe, South America and indeed, in Canada.

This is not the first controversial meat to be used on "Top Chef Canada." In the first episode, one of the chefs made a dish with seal flipper to represent his hometown of St. John's.

With reports from The Canadian Press