The union, which represents most UK meat inspectors, urged action to protect consumers against the danger of the veterinary drug phenylbutazone – or bute − getting into the food chain.
Yesterday the Food Standards Agency (FSA) admitted that five horses which tested positive for phenylbutazone – claimed by Labour to be a carcinogen – had been exported for human consumption.
But the FSA claimed that it carries out “regular enhanced sampling and testing for phenylbutazone in meat and horses slaughtered in the UK”.
Difficult to recall infected meat
However Unison claimed not every horse slaughtered in the UK for human consumption is tested for the drug. Also, tests can take several weeks to deliver results. This delay makes it difficult to recall all the infected meat, claimed the union.
Ian Adderley, Unison national officer in the meat hygiene service, said: “We are deeply concerned that substances unfit for human consumption could be getting into the food chain and onto people’s plates. Not enough tests are done, and even when they are, the delayed reporting process makes it difficult to recall every piece of infected meat.
“Government cuts to the National Equine Database means that the horse meat passport system isn’t working, so consumers aren’t protected. The only way to make sure that horse meat is safe to eat is to increase inspection and testing of horse meat. Unison is calling for this to happen as a matter of urgency.”
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: “I am in receipt of evidence showing that several horses slaughtered in UK abattoirs last year tested positive for phenylbutazone, or bute, a drug which causes cancer in humans and is banned from the human food chain.
“It is possible that those animals entered the human food chain.”
Burger King and Waitrose
Meanwhile, Burger King and Waitrose both acted to drop or suspend sales of beef burgers from ABP Food Group, the firm whose burgers were identified as containing horse DNA by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
Burger King confirmed that it had dropped Silvercrest Foods, a subsidiary of ABP Food Group, as a supplier for its outlets in the UK and Ireland.
The fast food outlet insisted the safety of its burgers was not in doubt and that its action was “a voluntary and precautionary measure”.
ABP Food Group’s Silvercrest plant in County Monaghan was one of three plants identified by the FSAI as supplying beef burgers contaminated with horse DNA to Tesco, Iceland and other outlets.
A Waitrose spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk it had removed beef burgers produced by ABP Food Group subsidiary Dalepak from its shelves “as a precaution” after the supplier lost its accreditation from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
Waitrose said all its beef comes from British suppliers and it was “100% confident in the integrity of our supply chain”.
The retailer said its frozen burgers − which make up 8% of total burger sales − were produced by Dalepak.
“Our technical team visited the Dalepak site last week and were happy that our products were produced to our high specification and separately from other companies' products,” said Waitrose.
"However, when the BRC suspended its accreditation of the site we decided − as a precautionary measure − to take our frozen burgers off sale. We understand the accreditation was reinstated on Thursday January 24.”
A spokesman for ABP Food Group told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “The company stated earlier this week that it is concentrating its efforts on its internal investigations and it remains entirely focused on that task. It has previously stated that it is not commenting further, pending the conclusion of those investigations."
There is no suggestion meat contaminated with phenylbutazone has made its way into the UK food chain.