Food Bills May Rise Amid Growing Meat Tests

Tom Parmenter, Sky News Correspondent

Consumers are being warned that food bills may rise if high demand for meat testing continues.

Since the start of the horsemeat scandal, laboratories all over the UK have been inundated with requests to test different meat products.

At Worcestershire Scientific Services laboratory staff have been working early mornings, late nights and weekends to keep up with demand.

Even some of the equipment has been unable to keep up with almost continual testing.

Laboratory manager Paul Hancock told Sky News that funding is tight, explaining: "The FSA do support the laboratory to a degree but things are very very difficult.

"If the consumer wants quality food they have to be prepared to pay for a degree of policing that."

Checking a meat sample for DNA from other species takes three days and costs between £75 to £100 per sample.

The number of labs capable of carrying out proper testing though has fallen over recent years due to funding cuts. In April, Somerset County Council will close its lab.

Those that remain open operate as competitive businesses rather than sharing information, equipment and practices with each other.

Mr Hancock added: "Ten or 15 years ago the labs used to work closely together that relationship has broken down because of commercial activity and that makes life a whole lot more difficult as well."

Meanwhile, France's agriculture ministry has confirmed that horse carcasses from the UK containing the drug Phenylbutazone - known as bute - have probably ended up in the human food chain.

A spokesman for the French agriculture ministry said it was alerted by British authorities that six carcasses had been exported to France in January but that the meat had already been processed.

Some of the meat was recalled but the equivalent of three carcasses have "probably" been eaten, according to officials - although they insist the health risk is "minor".

Bute is an anti-inflammatory treatment for horses which is potentially harmful to humans and is banned from the food chain.

The latest Food Standards Agency results showed six positive results for horse DNA out of 1,133 tested beef products, but so far no UK sample has been found to contain bute.

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