Horsemeat scandal: Bute found in eight horse carcasses

England's chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies: "There is a very low risk to humans"

Eight horses, killed in the UK, tested positive for the painkiller bute and six may have entered the food chain in France, the Food Standards Agency said.

England's chief medical officer said the highest level detected was 1.9mg of bute per kg of horsemeat, which posed "very little risk to human health".

Testing started before horsemeat was discovered in processed beef products.

Earlier, food minister David Heath said tests on Findus beef meals found to contain horsemeat were negative.

The prime minister's spokesman said the UK was working very closely with the French authorities tracking the carcasses, which were identified on Thursday morning.

FSA rules which came into force this week mean all horsemeat in the UK should be tested for bute before it is allowed to be sold for food.

Tests on a sample of horse carcasses took place over a three-month period last year after intelligence from abattoirs suggested bute was present in the food chain. Some six per cent of the carcasses tested positive, prompting the FSA to start testing on all horse meat in January.

A total of 206 carcasses were examined between 30 January and 7 February and the eight with bute were discovered.

The FSA said six of the horses were slaughtered at LJ Potter Partners at Stillman's in Taunton, Somerset, and were exported to France, where horsemeat is regularly consumed.

The two killed at High Peak Meat Exports in Nantwich, Cheshire, did not leave the slaughterhouse and have been destroyed.

In a statement, LJ Potter Partners said all the horses it slaughtered had been accompanied by a horse passport issued by the government permitting entry to the food chain.

But it said it had warned the scheme "would not ensure public health" when drafted into law and also questioned "ineffective" EU regulations.

"We are seeking a fundamental reappraisal of the legislation to permit our legitimate industry to perform its dual role in protecting horse welfare and providing customers who wish to purchase and consume horsemeat with a product in which they can be confident," it said.

'Meaningful results'

Concerns about horsemeat first came to light on 15 January when tests by Irish authorities found horsemeat in beefburgers made by firms in the Irish Republic and the UK and sold in supermarket chains including Tesco and Aldi.

Analysis

Bute is not allowed to get into food as it can cause serious complications in people.

Those concerns have been eased as the levels detected were very low.

However, it seems as though horses given bute do enter the food chain and on a regular basis.

One estimate suggests 540 bute-treated horses leave UK shores each year, destined for dinner plates on Continental Europe.

While the risks may be low, the risks are still there. The Food Standards Agency says it is unacceptable for any bute to enter the food chain.

It is for this reason that it has adopted a new policy of testing all slaughtered horsemeat for bute before allowing it to be sold for food.

A growing number of UK retailers have since recalled processed beef products found to contain horsemeat. And last week the British unit of frozen foods giant Findus started to recall its beef lasagne on advice from its French supplier, Comigel, after tests showed concentrations of horsemeat.

In other developments:

Chief medical officer Prof Dame Sally Davies said an individual would have to consume vast quantities of horsemeat containing bute to be at risk.

She said: "A person would have to eat 500-600, 100% horsemeat burgers a day to get close to consuming a human's daily dose. [The drug] passes through the system fairly quickly, so it is unlikely to build up in our bodies."

Bute is sometimes used as a drug to treat individuals suffering from a severe form of arthritis, but in rare cases it causes a serious blood disorder known as aplastic anaemia, where the body does not make enough new blood cells.

FSA chief executive Catherine Brown accused some vets and horse owners of not ensuring horse passports are kept up-to-date, leading to bute-treated horses ending up in the food chain.

'Catastrophic complacency'

Responding earlier to an urgent question in the House of Commons, food minister David Heath said that retailers and suppliers were "on course" to provide "meaningful results" on testing of beef products on Friday.

Safety issues

  • Experts say horsemeat is as safe to eat as beef
  • The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has demanded food businesses to check for horsemeat in all processed beef products, such as burgers, meatballs and lasagne. The first set of results are expected on Friday
  • There is concern that some horses are given a drug called bute (phenylbutazone) which can be dangerous to humans
  • In rare cases it causes a serious blood disorder known as aplastic anaemia, where the body does not make enough new blood cells
  • Animals treated with phenylbutazone are not allowed to enter the food chain for this reason
  • The Food Standards Agency ordered Findus to test its beef lasagne that contains horsemeat for bute, but no traces were found

He confirmed that tests on Findus products had revealed no trace of bute. Findus withdrew its beef lasagne from sale after tests found it to contain up to 100% horsemeat.

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh - who tabled the Commons question - went on to accuse the government of complacency over the danger of bute entering the human food chain.

She first raised concerns in the House about bute contamination in January.

Meanwhile, Aintree Racecourse has confirmed reports that the Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, under investigation in the horsemeat inquiry, has the contract to remove dead Grand National racehorses for disposal purposes.

But it said it was illegal for horses humanely put down by injection on the racecourse to be sold for consumption and was "as confident as we possibly can be that no unfit meat ever reaches the human food chain".

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