Food safety watchdog the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has admitted that five horses which tested positive for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone – claimed by Labour to be a carcinogen – were exported to France for food last year.
An FSA statement last night (January 24) said it had identified eight cases where horses tested positive for phenylbutazone – also known as bute – of which five were exported for the food chain. None of the meat was destined for the UK.
“Where the meat had been exported to other countries, the relevant food safety authorities were informed,” it said. “The other three did not enter the food chain. None of the meat had been placed for sale on the UK market.”
“The FSA carries out checks in slaughterhouses to ensure that horses presented for slaughter are fit for human consumption, in the same way as they do for other animals, such as sheep and cattle. The FSA also carries out regular enhanced sampling and testing for phenylbutazone in meat from horses slaughtered in the UK,” it said.
The agency added that during the recent horse meat incident, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) had checked for the presence of phenylbutazone and the samples came back negative.
The drug is banned from human consumption within the EU.
The FSA statement followed claims from shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh in the House of Commons that several UK-slaughtered horses had contained phenylbutazone, which she added was a carcinogen.
‘Tested positive for phenylbutazone’
Creagh told the House: “I am in receipt of evidence showing that several horses slaughtered in UK abattoirs last year tested positive for phenylbutazone, or bute, a drug that causes cancer in humans and is banned from the human food chain.
“It is possible that those animals entered the human food chain.”
Creagh went on to demand that the government takes action to prevent “illegal and carcinogenic horse meat entering the human food chain”.
Meanwhile, speaking before the FSA statement, its chief scientist Dr Andrew Wadge told the webinar − Food fact and fiction: separating science from myth: “On the basis of the evidence, there doesn’t seem to be a food safety issue . Firstly, because there’s nothing about horse meat that makes it any less safe than any other meat product.
“Also, the meat products were supplied to the retailer from approved establishments and those burgers that contained horse DNA were tested in Ireland for the presence of veterinary drugs ‒ such as bute ‒ and were all found to be negative.”
The drug is an anti-inflammatory treatment given to horses to treat lameness and fever.
The news follows revelations from the FSAI that beef burgers sold by Tesco, Iceland and others were contaminated with horse meat. But there is no suggestion the retailers sold meat contaminated with the drug.