Horsemeat: Bute Found In Carcasses In UK

Thomas Moore, Health Correspondent

Low levels of a potentially dangerous drug have been found in horsemeat destined for human consumption.

New figures released by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) show that eight horses slaughtered in the UK between January 30 and February 7 tested positive for the veterinary painkiller bute.

But FSA tests on Findus processed beef products withdrawn from sale in the UK after the discovery of traces of horsemeat found no evidence of the drug.

Six of the carcasses that tested positive were from the abattoir LJ Potter Partners in Taunton, Somerset.

They had already been exported to France and may have entered the food chain. Authorities are urgently trying to trace the meat.

The other two carcasses were found at High Peak Meat Exports of Nantwich, and were disposed of.

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said bute - also known as phenylbutazone - can cause skin rashes and problems with blood cell production when used in humans at therapeutic doses.

But the contaminated horsemeat contained levels much lower than those used to treat patients.

"If you ate 100% horse burgers of 250g, you would have to eat, in one day, more than 500 or 600 to get to a human dose," she said.

"It would really be difficult to get up to a human dose."

The FSA said it is investigating how contaminated horses slipped through the net.

All horses are legally required to have a passport, which is stamped if they are treated with bute.

Abattoirs are required to check the passport before slaughtering the animal, and discard all those where bute has been used or their treatment history is uncertain.

Around 9,000 horses a year in Britain are slaughtered for human consumption. Almost all the meat is exported.

The FSA  said new rules brought in this month would in future prevent abattoirs releasing horse carcasses until tests had shown they were clear.

Recent changes to the testing process mean results can now be given in 48 hours. It used to take two weeks and carcasses were allowed to be sent for processing before results were returned.

Meanwhile, the French government said the French firm Spanghero knowingly sold horsemeat as beef and that it was withdrawing the firm's licence to process meat.

Consumer affairs minister Benoit Hamon said the company engaged in "fraud", and agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll said Spanghero's licence was being suspended while experts carried out tests on products at its processing plant.

Spanghero denied the claim.

Earlier, Staffordshire County Council announced it had taken beef off its school menus as a precaution.

Staffordshire councillor Mark Winnington said they were taking a "belt and braces" approach.

He said: "We have every confidence in our suppliers, however while this story continues to be in the news it seemed sensible to offer an alternative meal, where beef is not Farm Assured and sourced in the UK.

"As a council we are committed to promoting and using local produce as much as possible and are currently expanding a pilot scheme in schools where only meat from Staffordshire farms (is used) and this is being rolled out across the county.

"While there is absolutely no suggestion that there is any problem with any of the beef supplied we wanted to take a belt and braces approach, but  expect beef to be back on the menu after half-term."

Earlier in the day German supermarket chain Real said it had found traces of horsemeat in frozen lasagne that it had pulled off the shelves last week as a precautionary measure. Other German supermarkets are also testing products.

A new Sky News poll has suggested one fifth of shoppers in the UK are changing what they buy as a result of the horsemeat scandal.