Cancer causing drug may have been in horse meat consumed in UK, Labour warns as Burger King dumps millions of patties after claiming it was unaffected
- Horses slaughtered in UK last year tested positive for phenylbutazone
- Anti-inflammatory drug is banned from human food chain
- Burger King has ended its deal with Irish firm ABP’s Silvercrest plant
- Managers told to mark boxes of burgers from firm with an ‘X’
- But staff instructed not to remove the meat until replacements arrive
- Some products on its menu may be unavailable until new supplier is found
By STEVE NOLAN, Daily Mail Online, 24 January 2013
A drug that can cause cancer in humans may have entered the food chain through horse meat slaughtered in UK abattoirs, Labour has claimed.
Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh told the Commons she had evidence that ‘several’ horses slaughtered in the UK last year tested positive for the carcinogen phenylbutazone.
Her claim comes as it was revealed Burger King is dumping millions of patties supplied by Silvercrest, the firm at the centre of the horse meat scandal which found up to 29 per cent horse in some frozen supermarket burgers.
Speaking in the Commons today, Ms Creagh said: ‘I am in receipt of evidence showing that several horses slaughtered in UK abattoirs last year tested positive for phenylbutazone, or bute, a drug which causes cancer in humans and is banned from the human food chain.
‘It is possible that those animals entered the human food chain.’
But agriculture minister David Heath told MPs: ‘The Food Standards Agency carry out checks in slaughterhouses to ensure that equine animals presented for slaughter are fit for human consumption in the same way as they do for cattle, sheep and other animals.
‘In addition, the FSA carry out subsequent testing for phenylbutazone and other veterinary medicines in meat from horses slaughtered in this country.
‘Where positive results of phenylbutazone are found, the FSA investigates and takes follow-up action to trace the meat.’
Ms Creagh questioned whether that meant Mr Heath was aware of the issue. ‘I’m astonished that you have not raised this and I think the public have a right to know,’ she said.
Ms Creagh said it was a ‘very serious development’ and demanded action to ensure that ‘illegal and carcinogenic horse meat stops entering the human food chain’.
Last week, Aldi, Lidl, Iceland and Tesco have all removed Silvercrest products from their shelves after some were found to be contaminated with horse meat.
Sainsbury’s, Asda and the Co-op later withdrew some frozen products but stressed that the move was ‘purely precautionary’ and they had not been found to be selling contaminated food.
But public analyst Dr Duncan Campbell told Mail Online that, although FSAI had tested for the presence of bute, there may be a risk that other anti-inflammatory drugs not tested for could be present.
‘Until we know where it [the meat] came from, we can’t be sure there is no risk,’ said Dr Campbell.
‘The number of Trading Standards Officers has been cut and the amount of sampling has been declining for over ten years.
‘The UK FSA’s own statistics show that in County Councils, the number of food samples taken for analysis has fallen by 43 per cent between 2008-9 and 2011-12.’
It emerged today Burger King told its restaurant managers to put all beefburgers from Silvercrest in boxes marked with an X after the fast food giant ended its deal with APB’s Silvercrest plant.
The chain issued the memo just three days after insisting it would not be withdrawing any lines.
It warned that its boycott of Silvercrest could lead to a shortage of some products until alternative suppliers are found.
Stores were told to put boxes in a safe area and write ‘Do Not Use’ to top, according to an internal memo seen by The Sun.
They were also told to ‘clean and sanitise’ pans and sinks and throw away dishcloths used in the process.
But vice president Tracy Gehlan told 485 restaurant managers not to remove the burgers until replacements from a different supplier had arrived.
The memo said worried customers were to be told Burger King was taking all the ‘necessary precautions’ to ensure quality.
Burger King said in a statement: ‘Food quality and safety are a top priority for Burger King restaurants globally.
‘We have stringent and overlapping controls to ensure that the products we sell to our customers meet our strict quality standards.
‘Silvercrest, a subsidiary of ABP Food Group, has been under investigation for potential contamination of some retail products.
‘This company also supplied 100 per cent pure beef patties for our restaurants in the UK and Ireland.
‘While this is not a food safety issue according to findings from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), upon learning of these allegations, we immediately launched an independent investigation that is currently ongoing.
‘As a precaution, this past weekend we decided to replace all Silvercrest products in the UK and Ireland with products from another approved Burger King supplier.
‘This is a voluntary and precautionary measure. We are working diligently to identify suppliers that can produce 100 per cent pure Irish and British beef products that meet our high quality standards.
‘Unfortunately, this may mean that some of our products are temporarily unavailable.
‘We apologise to our guests for any inconvenience. However, we want to let them know that they can trust us to serve only the highest quality products.
‘We take this matter seriously and will continue with our investigations to determine how this situation occurred and what lessons can be learned.’
Ten million burgers have so far been taken off supermarket shelves across Ireland and the UK as a result of the scandal.
Suppliers in the Netherlands and Spain have been identified as the possible sources for incorrectly labelled ingredients.
Work at the Silvercrest plant in County Monaghan, Ireland, was stopped after new tests last week revealed contamination.
The plant and another of the company’s subsidiaries, Dalepak Hambleton in Yorkshire, had already supplied beefburgers with traces of equine DNA to supermarkets including Tesco, according to test results.
One product was found to contain almost 30 per cent horse meat.
But the company had insisted that meat for Burger King products was stored and processed separately and that there is no evidence to suggest that any of the chain’s products had been contaminated as well.
Tesco took out full-page adverts in a number of national newspapers apologising for selling the contaminated beefburgers, and Aldi, Lidl and Iceland also withdrew burgers from sale after they were found to contain horsemeat.
Another company, Liffey Meats, based in Co Cavan, Ireland, was also found to be supplying products to supermarkets with traces of horse DNA.
WHAT COULD BE IN YOUR BURGER
Phenylbutazone, or ‘bute’ is an anti-inflammatory drug which is regularly given to horses to treat lameness, pain and fever.
It is the most commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory in equine practice.
Bute is banned from entering the human food chain in the EU because it can cause cancer and other lethal effects.
Horses that have been treated with it should have the information recorded on their passport, but Labour claim the issuing of such documents is fragmented in the UK, where there are 75 approved issuing organisations and no national database to track the information.
The Food Standards Agency tests to see that horses in slaughterhouses are fit for consumption and carries out further checks on the meat later down the line.
In 2012, it identified five horses with non-compliant results. None of the meat was placed on the UK market and where it had been exported, relevant food safety authorities were informed.
But public analyst Dr Duncan Campbell said such sampling had been in decline for ten years. He warned that there was also a danger that other anti-flammatory drugs that have not been tested for could be present in the horse meat.