A POWERFUL painkiller made from the poison of jungle frogs is feared to have entered the food chain in contaminated horse meat.
The drug, extracted from South American tree frogs and used to illegally dope racehorses so they can run when badly injured, joins a host of banned medicines that might be lurking in our food.
Animal welfare campaigners highlighted the threat of dermorphin or “tree frog juice” in the food chain last night when they called for a moratorium on horse meat being shipped into Europe from North America.
More than 100,000 horses are slaughtered there each year and sold to Europe but because of failings in the system there are questions over the meat reaching EU food standards.
Although the EU bans the presence of medicines in animals destined for the meat market, there are concerns that American carcasses contain drug residue because there are no requirements for their veterinary records to be shown at slaughter.
Sport, working and companion horses from the United States are all killed for the European market. Recent scandals in the racing world, which have seen animals “nobbled” with drugs made from frog juice and even cobra venom, have raised the threat of illicit substances entering the food chain.
The horse meat scandal shows no signs of abating, with Birds Eye removing a number of ready meals and a catering giant supplying schools, the Armed Forces and Ascot racecourse also withdrawing its beef.
There are now calls for a new round of checks on products for a wider number of contaminants. Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh said: “We now know that criminals have passed off untraceable horse meat into products that thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people have eaten over at least several months.
“The Government should order companies to test all products adulterated with horse meat to check that there is no risk to human health from any horse medication.”
The threat that “tree frog juice” has found its way on to the market was highlighted last week by Humane Society International. The animal welfare organisation is campaigning with its American partners for a moratorium on the sale of horse meat from across the North Atlantic.
It says there can be “no doubt that substantial numbers” of American horses sold to Europe have been administered with veterinary drugs, which is at odds with the lifetime ban on these substances for food animals.
“In addition, there is no way to track illegal substances such as dermorphin, routinely used by unscrupulous horse trainers to enhance performance, because laboratories wouldn’t even know to test for these drugs.
“Sport, working, companion and performance horses do not belong in the food supply as the meat simply cannot be guaranteed safe.”
The Food Standards Agency said: “We are assessing the need for any further veterinary medicine testing of both horses slaughtered in the UK and of horse meat found in food.”