ILLEGAL horsemeat contaminated with a cancer-causing drug was butchered in a British abattoir and sent to a farm in Yorkshire for human consumption, a Government agency has confirmed.
Health Ministers revealed yesterday that, contrary to previous assurances, a horse which was killed and butchered in Britain and known to be contaminated with the carcinogenic drug phenylbutazone – widely referred to as “bute” – has indeed entered the UK food chain.
Food safety officials claimed the banned meat was eaten only by the horse’s original owner, a farmer in Kirklees, and an associate of his on another farm in Lancashire.
But Labour warned there was no real evidence the potentially dangerous meat had not been distributed more widely. Bute is given to horses as an anti-inflammatory, but can cause cancer in humans and is strictly banned from entering the food chain across the EU.
In the wake of the recent scandal over quantities of horsemeat found in supermarket beefburgers, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh, has warned of several cases of bute being found in UK abattoirs.
Figures this week revealed that nearly 10,000 horses were killed and butchered for their meat in British abattoirs last year. Just over 150 were tested for bute, with nine coming back positive.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) moved to reassure the public that “none of the meat had been placed for sale in the UK”.
But it has now emerged that while most of the contaminated horsemeat was shipped to France, one carcase was divided up and sent to two farms in the north of England – one in Kirklees and another in Chorley, Lancashire.
In a written Parliamentary answer, Health Minister Anna Soubry said the FSA had contacted the relevant local authorities as soon as it realised the meat was contaminated – believed to be in September 2012. But she said that when environmental health officials visited the farms in question, they were told the meat had been “purchased for personal consumption – and had already been consumed”.
FSA officials said last night that they had accepted this version of events, adding that as the Yorkshire farmer and his associate had effectively eaten their own horse, the meat was never actually sold in the UK.
But Ms Creagh, who is also MP for Wakefield, said people would not be reassured that the food safety system was working. “The public must have confidence that the food they buy is properly labelled, legal and safe,” she said.
“Despite last week’s denials, the Food Standards Agency have now confirmed that horsemeat contaminated with phenylbutazone – or bute – has been consumed in the UK, despite it being banned from the human food chain.
“The Government, retailers and the FSA need to get a grip and set out what steps they will take to ensure this does not happen again.”
The bute contamination is the second horsemeat scandal to hit the UK this year, after traces of horse were found in a range of supermarket burgers last month.
The FSA said in a statement: “Horses treated with ‘bute’ are not allowed to enter the food chain. The FSA carries out checks in slaughterhouses to ensure that horses presented for slaughter are fit for human consumption. In 2012, the FSA identified five cases where horses returned non-compliant results. None of the meat had been placed for sale on the UK market.”
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