UK vets have 'repeatedly raised concerns' over bute in food

Horse receiving injection One scientist called racehorses from the US "walking pharmacies"

An independent veterinary committee had "repeatedly expressed concern" about a drug found in UK horsemeat destined for export, the BBC has learned.

The discovery of horsemeat in UK foodstuffs is raising big concerns that UK testing regimes are not sufficient.

There are worries that if unregulated horsemeat is substituted for beef it could expose people to a drug called phenylbutazone - often called "bute".

Once used as an anti-inflammatory, its toxicity to some people led to a ban.

The drug in rare cases caused a serious blood disorder known as aplastic anaemia.

But it is still used widely to treat horses. Once treated these animals are not supposed to enter the food chain.

'Big trade'

In the UK about 8,000 horses a year are slaughtered for human consumption. This meat is then exported to other European countries. Under EU regulations, it must be tested for a range of substances including bute.

Last July the UK's Veterinary Residues Committee, which carries out that testing, issued a report. In it, they showed that among 60 samples of horsemeat destined for export in 2010, there were five positive results for bute.

The independent committee said that it had "repeatedly expressed concern over residues of phenylbutazone entering the food chain".

Start Quote

The potential is there for quite significant contamination and residues, given that the route by which this meat is moving is very far from watertight.”

End Quote Mark Jones Humane Society International

"The number has gone up a little over the past three or four years," committee chairman Dr Dorothy Craig told BBC News.

"We're finding a rate of about 5%. It's banned, so the number of non-compliant samples should be zero."

Since 2005, horses are required by law to have a "passport" that contains a declaration as to whether the horse is intended for human consumption.

These passports are also used to record if an animal has been treated with bute; most of the UK positives have come from difficulties with these documents.

"That's really where the problems come from - either a genuine error or where there's deliberate fraud going on," said Dr Craig.

In June 2012, the European Commission's Directorate General for Health and Consumers issued its summary of an audit of abbatoirs in Italy - the EU's biggest consumer of horsemeat. In it, they noted "numerous shortcomings were detected in the passports".

But the global nature of the horsemeat business is also causing problems in tracing exposure to bute.

Using bute on horses for human consumption is banned in the EU, but thousands of tonnes of horsemeat is imported from the US, Canada and Mexico where practices are different.

Many of the animals killed for food in these countries were once racehorses, and the use of bute at racetracks across the US is so widespread that one scientist speaking to the New York Times called these horses "walking pharmacies".

Research published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology in 2010 highlighted this risk, and EU officials warned last year about serious problems in verifying whether horses killed in Mexico were drug-free.

"This is a very big trade," says Mark Jones from Humane Society International.

"The potential is there for quite significant contamination and residues, given that the route by which this meat is moving is very far from watertight."

Matt McGrath Article written by Matt McGrath Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    The sheer number of humans on the planet are changing the environment.
    Within that population a few make big money manufacturing products that are highly dangerous to humans and the environment in which we live.

    If they could get away with it, Melamine would be added to milk and all sorts of other food products.

    The only way to prevent it is to randomly test all things and enforce laws of safety

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Does it affect humans ? I say neigh !

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    I am not going to eat horse meat!

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I love this demand for criminal enquiry into this event. Don't get me wrong, I agree it should be done. However without the FSS this case will have to get into line with all the rest, and be financially reviewed as well!
    And that ladies and gentlemen may take some time and a lot of budgeting too

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    This is the whole point of ensuring we know what is in our food, unregulated meat (or any kind) into our food chain is bad, and now we have a risk all be it a small one that could potentially harm people.

    Heads need to roll over this, and not the PBI's or usual suspects. There needs to be a serious Criminal enquiry and serious prosecutions against suppliers and supermarkets.


Comments 5 of 62



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