England’s Chief Medical Officer confirms horse painkiller found in carcasses south of border


  By a Newsnet reporter
Eight horses slaughtered in England have been found to contain the painkiller bute, England’s Chief Medical Officer has confirmed.
Six of the carcasses may have entered the food chain in France according to the Food Standards Agency.

The horses were slaughtered in Somerset and Cheshire.  Of the eight, six were exported to France whilst the other two infected carcasses were destroyed before leaving the slaughterhouse.

Horsemeat has been found in beefburgers and frozen lasagne in the UK – tests on Findus beef meals returned negative for bute.  In Germany traces of horsemeat has also been found in frozen lasagne.  The EU has urged all member nations to carry out random testing; a new testing regime is to be introduced on the 1st March.

The traces of bute found in England in horsemeat which was destined for human consumption has been described as unlikely to be harmful to humans.

The English 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.”

Commenting, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns said: “The positive samples show minute traces of Phenylbutazone compared to the normal dose which used to be given to humans.   Even the sample with the highest trace is still at a level many hundred times lower than those previously used in humans on a daily basis.

“Furthermore, even at the much higher level previously given to humans, serious adverse reactions were rare and usually associated with prolonged exposure.   It is, therefore, my view that the risk to human health is likely to be very low.   However, no level of this drug in the human food chain can be tolerated.   I am, therefore, reassured by the action the FSA is taking to ensure this is the case.”

The new EU-wide meat testing regime, to be introduced from March 1, was welcomed today by Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead.  The move mirrors the action which has already been taken in Scotland which was the first part of the UK to undertake these inspections.

Inspections are currently being carried out in plants approved to manufacture processed meat products throughout Scotland as part of measures introduced after horsemeat contamination was found in beef in Ireland.

The majority of these inspections are expected to be completed by 22 February.

Commenting Mr Lochhead said:

“It’s vital that consumers can have confidence that the meat they are eating is as described on the label.

“That’s why we have acted swiftly, in conjunction with the Food Standards Agency in Scotland, to investigate and ensure food businesses are complying with their legal obligations concerning the composition and labelling of the foods they sell.

“I welcome the plans for a new EU-wide testing regime, mirroring what is already happening in Scotland, which will give increased protection to consumers.

“Meanwhile, food standards inspections continue to be carried out in all plants approved to produce processed meat products in Scotland and the FSA in Scotland and the Scottish Government continue to monitor the situation closely.

“Yesterday I participated, along with the UK Government and the FSA, in an industry wide meeting and had a separate telephone call with all the devolved administration ministers to discuss the situation.

“Today I have continued to speak to key stakeholders, including the major retailers in Scotland, and will be speaking again tomorrow with DEFRA Secretary of State Owen Paterson.

“In the meantime, I would urge consumers to continue to buy Scottish meat as the Scotch label brings with it a guarantee of quality.”

In Scotland, the FSA retains responsibility for food labelling policy unlike in England where responsibility was transferred in 2010 to UK Ministers.