Horsemeat - food fraud, not food safety

 

You may have noticed that I've spent quite a bit of my time reporting about horsemeat in recent days.

I'm the medical correspondent and so that might make you assume that there is a strong health angle to the horsemeat contamination scandal.

The evidence so far would suggest otherwise. This is a food fraud rather than a food safety issue.

Unlike most of the health stories I cover, no one has got ill or is likely to get ill as a result of the horsemeat contamination.

What about the equine painkiller bute? The Food Standards Agency says horse carcasses with traces of the anti-inflammatory have been exported and have been entering the food chain for some time.

This is clearly one of the many failures exposed by this affair.

Bute - or phenylbutazone - is licensed in humans to treat ankylosing spondylitis - a severe form of arthritis that affects the back.

In long-term use it carries a one in 30,000 risk of a serious side effect - the bone marrow disorder aplastic anaemia. It is no longer commonly prescribed and there hasn't been a case of this linked to the drug since at least 1985.

In order to get a single therapeutic dose of bute from horsemeat you'd need to eat 500-600 250g horse burgers. That's an awful lot of meat.

Of course there may be other drugs such as traces of antibiotics which might be found in unregulated horsemeat that enters the food chain.

The Chief Medical Officer, Prof Sally Davies, said the levels would be so low as not to represent a health risk, although she is deeply worried about the long-term threat of antibiotic resistance in the human and animal world. That is another issue.

If horsemeat was used which was rancid or infected that would present other potential health concerns but no-one has found evidence of this. Properly cooked meat would get rid of most pathogens.

There is of course what Prof Davies called the yuck factor. We all like to know what we are eating, and that we can trust the labels on our food.

Horsemeat is popular in mainland Europe, in countries like Italy, France and Belgium. It is a lean meat and I'm told used to be widely used overseas to build the strength of patients who were convalescing.

But for cultural reasons horsemeat is not popular in Britain and the current food scandal is unlikely to change that.

The results of tests which companies were ordered to carry out revealed that the vast majority of processed beef products are free of horsemeat.

But how many of us have unwittingly eaten horsemeat, and how long has the mislabelling of products been going on?

The chief executive of the Food Standards Agency, Catherine Brown, was candid: "These tests are a snapshot so we will never know the full extent - it is shocking."

The food industry still has to rebuild public confidence so that consumers feel they can trust the labels on supermarket shelves.

There is one definite health risk associated with the horsemeat affair. Eating processed meat products carry an increased long-term risk of cancer. If the horsemeat scandal encourages people to eat fewer meals of mass-produced burgers, lasagne and bolognese, it would be one positive outcome from this unpleasant scandal.

 
Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 47.

    Food , the vital ingredient of sustaining existance, yet so many are ignorant of preparing it and storing it themselves.

    I remember years ago, in Stevenage, a Chinese takaway got caught with a freezer full of dogs/cats, which people had munched on for some time.

    If meat cheating is so easy at top levels, then what about lower down. Can you REALLY tell what your bright orange/red takaway is

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 46.

    Another current food fraud. Euro Foods Ltd supplied Indian takeaways with products containing peanuts rather than almonds, guilty of food adulteration charges and fined a total of £18k.
    In January 2011 Trading Standards took part in a country wide sampling project organised by the FSA to establish if takeaway premises supplied food which contained undeclared peanuts. 3/36 meals contained peanut.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 45.

    33hereword

    Who do we sue?
    ===
    The suet producers, I dare say.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 44.

    An industry that makes “Eddie Grundy” look like a paragon of integrity and efficiency!
    The worrying thing is nobody can say whether this is criminal or just plain incompetence in source?
    Whatever happened to traceability?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 43.

    34paulmerhaba

    There seem to be a lot of 'industries' that have to rebuild public confidence.
    Why is that?
    ===
    Seems to me there can be only one reason, they've lost it.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 42.

    As if we needed any more evidence - Deregulation of banks, newspapers and now the food industry is bad for us! Stop caving into the multinationals and the establishment....legislate!!!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 41.

    Is it just me or does it seem a tad coincidental that this whole horse meat scandal kicked off at the same time the body of Richard III was dug up?

    Did he have plenty of horses after all, that have now been spirited into the food chain?

    A horse, a horse, for my lunch I'd like a horse?!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 40.

    Produce food locally, grown your own where ever you can, it's not rocket science people.

    Never rely on anyone else while we live in an unethical society, driven by profit margins.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 39.

    29 Little nick
    "So bute stays in the horse meat, does it not also stay in us and build up with repeated doses ?."
    I've eaten horse meat with no ill effects. Mind you my arthritis seems to be causing me less pain of late......

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 38.

    There's a global recession. Everyone, including those previously thought of as more prosperous, want the cheaper cuts. It was not too surprising to learn that only 25% of the beef we eat is in a recognisable form (joints, steaks, casserole chunks). Where there's a market for something, whether it be mince, drugs, or sub-prime mortgages, there will always be many shady characters making a profit.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 37.

    This is a health issue. It shows the gap between appearance and reality in the food we eat. The supermarkets talk about quality and wholesome natural ingredients but the truth is quite different. Their advertising is written by agencies to hide the truth of doubtful supply chains and low standards. Shop at your local butchers if you really want quality food, and don't be fooled by advertising.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 36.

    The truth of the matter is we have little idea, and even less control, over what's in the food that we buy. Processed foods and ready meals are obviously the biggest culprits but even fruit and veg could contain chemicals that shouldn't be there.

    We need regulators that will control these things in our best interests. The aternitive is to change our lifestyles and only eat fresh local foods.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 35.

    Its a food fraud issue not a safety issue? That is one very large assumption based on one lot of testing done now, while at the same time admitting this could have been going on for how long? Months? Years? Do they have test results from then? No! Why? Because the food industry can be trusted and should not be burdened with more regulation according to DC 2 years ago. What a joke.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 34.

    There seem to be a lot of 'industries' that have to rebuild public confidence.
    Why is that?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 33.

    Who do we sue?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 32.

    In the past, I made comments disparaging our supermarkets on HYS, and each time, they received negative ratings.

    But now the truth about our arrogant sleazy supermarkets has come out, I feel vindicated.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 31.

    What else is being tested? If only 47% of a value burger is meat what is the rest? Dog? There needs to be more testing for other things, not only horse

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 30.

    A simple correction, this matter is financial fraud undertaken in the food market. Fraud is financial, it is theft, some people get their knickers twisted.

    P E C F D. F E L O P Z D. P E Z O L C F T D. 00

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 29.

    So bute stays in the horse meat, does it not also stay in us and build up with repeated doses ?.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 28.

    @ 18 enigmaticbiker

    But how confident are you about the animal based (including human waste) fertiliser used to grow your vegetables.

 

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