Horsemeat crisis

FSA probes illegal drug in Asda’s horsemeat corned beef

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food

All bar one. Every sample of meat contaminated with horsemeat has tested negative for the banned animal medicine phenylbutazone – except one. Book your place at our free one-hour horsemeat lessons learnt webinar using the links at the end of this article
All bar one. Every sample of meat contaminated with horsemeat has tested negative for the banned animal medicine phenylbutazone – except one. Book your place at our free one-hour horsemeat lessons learnt webinar using the links at the end of this article
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is investigating how Asda corned beef became contaminated with horsemeat, which was then revealed to contain the banned veterinary drug phenylbutazone, or bute.

Asda has recalled all its budget range of corned beef after traces of the pain killer, which is not allowed to enter the human food chain, were discovered  yesterday (April 9).  

The product was withdrawn from sale on March 8 and some have questioned the time taken to identify phenylbutazone in the meat.

But Andrew Rhodes, director of operations at the FSA, said it took time to reveal the presence of the drug.

“It’s a very processed product, so you need to be able to gain enough meat to test and then to amplify the test sample to get a result,”​ Rhodes told BBC Radio 4’s Today​ programme.

“What we have found in this positive test result is a very, very low level of phenylbutazone – four parts per billion, which is only just above the level of detection, so it is a very low reading.”

Free one-hour horsemeat webinar

Rhodes is taking part in a free one-hour webinar on the lessons to be learned from the horsemeat crisis at 11am on Thursday May 16. More details are available here​ and at the end of this article.

The FSA boss went on to reassure consumers about the low risk to human health from eating the product. “It is extremely rare that people have an adverse reaction to phenylbutazone.”

The level of drug in the meat was significantly lower than the level of a therapeutic dose previously approved for human use, he said. “You would have to consume enormous quantities of meat – way more than anyone could actually physically consume – to get near a therapeutic dose,”​ added Rhodes.

Rhodes went on to confirm every meat sample which had tested positive for horsemeat in the UK had also been tested for phenylbutazone. “Not every single one of those ​[results] has returned because some of those were detected more recently. And every single one, until yesterday, has proved negative and yesterday’s result was an extremely low reading,” ​said Rhodes.

In a statement yesterday, Asda acknowledged the presence of “very low levels of bute found in Asda Smart Price Corned Beef”.

‘Extremely cautious approach’

The retailer claimed to have taken “an extremely cautious approach since the very beginning”. ​It said it had carried out more than 700 tests and acted  “swiftly to remove any products from our shelves whenever we've had the smallest concerns”.

It added: “The FSA has reassured us that the quantities we’ve found pose a low risk to human health. Although there is a very low health risk, we are recalling this product. This simply means that we ask anyone who has tinned Smart Price Corned Beef (340g) in their cupboards at home to bring it back into store for a full refund.”

Meanwhile, the Food Manufacture​ Group has teamed up the law firm DWF to stage a webinar – Horsemeat: learning the lessons of an avoidable crisis – to  focus on how food firms can protect themselves from similar food contamination problems.

We have assembled an expert panel of speakers including: Rhodes, Professor Tony Hines, head of food security and crisis management at Leatherhead Food Research, and Hilary Ross, partner with the business law firm DWF.

The focus will be placed firmly on solutions for the future, rather than the problems of the past.

Book your place at this free online event here​ .

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