Chief scientist with the food safety watchdog the Food Standards Agency Dr Andrew Wadge has underlined the safety of horse meat during a webinar question-and-answer session yesterday (January 24).
Wadge told the webinar ‒ Food fact and fiction: separating science from myth ‒ that: “On the basis of the evidence, there doesn’t appear to be a food safety issue. Firstly, because there’s nothing about horsemeat that makes it any less safe than any other meat products.
“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 [phenylbutazone] ‒ and were all found to be negative.”
Horses tested positive
Later in the day, the FSA admitted that of eight cases where horses tested positive for phenylbutazone , five were exported for sale in the food chain. But none was sold in the UK.
“Where the meat had been exported to other countries, the relevant food safety authorities were informed,” said the FSA. “The other three did not enter the food chain. None of the meat had been placed for sale on the UK market.”
Horses that have been treated with phenylbutazone are not allowed to enter the food chain, it said. “The FSA carries out checks in slaughterhouses to ensure that horses presented for slaughter are fit for human consumption, in the same was as they do for other animals, such as sheep and cattle,” it added. “The FSA also carries out regular enhanced sampling and testing for phenylbutazone in meat from horses slaughtered in the UK.”
The statement followed shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh’s comments in the House of Commons that several UK-slaughtered horses had contained phenylbutazone, which she added was a carcinogen.
Meanwhile, Wadge went on to tell webinar delegates: “Clearly, there’s been a breakdown somewhere and that’s part of the [FSA] investigation. It’s very important that we understand what went wrong and that the retailers and the suppliers take the responsibility of making sure that this doesn’t happen again. The FSA’s job is to then audit them and to check what they are doing is correct.”
Webinar speaker Sue Davies, chief policy adviser at consumer watchdog Which?, said the horse meat scandal underlined the key importance of trust between food producers, suppliers and retailers and accurate labelling.
“I think it has shown how important it is that consumers can trust the labels on food,” said Davies.
“It also shows how food has such a strong cultural dimension because, as Andrew said, it doesn’t appear to be a food safety issue. But the fact that people are eating the type of meat they didn’t expect to has raised a lot of concern.
“We know from the FSA’s reports of food incidents that food fraud is on the increase. We need science to make sure that enforcement officers are able to pick up these things at an early stage and that there is a disincentive for poor practices.”
Undermines consumers’ trust
Third webinar speaker Nicole Patterson, principal consumer analyst at Leatherhead Food Research, agreed contamination undermines consumers’ trust in the industry. “It highlights it is not just communication ‒ it is the right sort of communication of all the relevant facts that is needed to get that trust in the industry.”
For Wadge’s comments on horse meat contamination of beef burgers in full ‒ together with those from Davies and Patterson plus their webinar presentations ‒ click here .
The webinar was organised by FoodManufacture.co.uk and the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST).
Watch out for more reports from our food science and technology webinar next week on Food Manufacture.co.uk and in Food Manufacture magazine next month. Reserve your copy here .