Horsemeat cancer fears raised by Labour


BBC News, 24 January 2013

Mary Creagh says she has evidence that horses slaughtered in UK abattoirs tested positive for bute

Mary Creagh says she has evidence that horses slaughtered in UK abattoirs tested positive for bute

A drug that can potentially cause cancer in humans may have entered the food chain via horses slaughtered in UK abattoirs, Labour claims.

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said “several” UK-slaughtered horses had tested positive for the carcinogen phenylbutazone.

Agriculture minister David Heath said all meat was checked to ensure it was fit for human consumption.

The news comes after horse and pig DNA was recently found in some burgers.

Some of these were sold in Tesco, Iceland, Lidl and Aldi and Dunnes. Tesco took out adverts in British newspapers apologising for the matter.

There is no suggestion that these burgers contained phenylbutazone.

‘Right to know’

Phenylbutazone is an anti-inflammatory drug which is given to horses for the treatment of lameness, pain and fever.

It is banned from entering the human food chain within the EU and horses that have been administered the drug should have the information recorded on their passport.

But Labour claim the issuing of horse passports in the UK is fragmented, as there are 75 approved issuing organisations in the UK, with no national database to track the information.

Ms Creagh told Mr Heath in the Commons: “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.”

When she asked if Mr Heath was aware of the cases, the minister replied: “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 for phenylbutazone are found, the FSA investigates and takes follow-up action to trace the meat.”

‘Very serious’

Ms Creagh then asked if 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.

She also said the news was a “very serious development” and demanded action to ensure that “illegal and carcinogenic horsemeat stops entering the human food chain”.

And she called on the government to reverse a “reckless” decision to end the National Equine Database.

But Mr Heath replied: “There is no difficulty in tracing the use of a horse passport. To suggest the National Equine Database was required to do that is simply erroneous.”


image of David ShukmanAnalysis David Shukman Science editor, BBC News

For horsemeat containing bute to get into the food chain, several safety processes have to fail.

First the horse’s passport tracking its drug history has to be misleading – an illegal act in itself.

Then the horse has to get past the spot checks – relatively easy because not many are carried out.

Finally, the meat has to end up being processed and sold for human use – almost always on the Continent, very little being eaten here.

The numbers involved in this scenario cannot be large since only around 8,000 horses are slaughtered each year.

But checks since 2007 do show bute turning up in small but consistent quantities. And the stuff is best avoided.

A specialist Defra committee says it has “serious adverse effects”. Real harm is very unlikely, but the episode once again raises awkward questions about the international meat trade.


AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
  • vickysecho

    The same horse cartel that takes U.S. unregulated food animals – horses – is still trying to hide the fact that they are ‘allowing’ a system that supplies unregulated, adulterated horses to enter a human food chain. The U.S. has NO food animal regulations for horses exported to Canada and Mexico, with the majority exported to the EU. NONE! NO drug history is kept or maintained in the U.S.
    The EU allows passports to be re-created when they are ‘lost’.
    They have NO idea what they are eating!

    January 24, 2013
  • Laurel

    Even small amounts of ‘Bute’ are known to cause birth defects in lab animals, and it can’t be given to pregnant animals in any dosage. I pray that our unscrupulous and greedy horse dealers haven’t caused an epidemic of birth defects in the equine-consuming countries.
    As the recent story tells us, even those unwilling to eat equine have been tricked into it.

    January 24, 2013
  • Dennis Davey

    Vickysecho, you could not be more correct in your claims.I have written Canadas minister of Agri food G. Ritz and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency over the issues you speak to. They claim that their E.I.D. system prohibits U.S. Horses from slaughter in Canada, as the document requires the owner, auction or kill buyer complete the form that states TO THE BEST OF HIS KNOWLEDGE the Horse has been drug free for six months. Recently it was CONFIRMED that two race horses were slaughterd in Quebec who would NOT QUALIFY FOR SLAUGHTER DUE TO DRUGS, WERE INDEED SLAUGHTERD and the meat exported to the E.U for human consumption. Worse the killbuyer who presented the horses for slaughter as well as the slaughter facility knew this as fact.Unfortunately this EID system is TOTALLY UNRELIABLE AND WIDE OPEN TO FRAUDULIENT INFORMATION, AS DOCUMENTED BY KILLBUYERS, AUCTION OR OWNERS. Yes the Europeans have no idea as to tainted horse meat entering their market.Simply put, Horses in the U.S. and Canada are not raised for human consumption, and are definitely administered drugs unsafe for humans.

    January 24, 2013
  • Ann M. Marini, Ph.D., M.D.

    A specialist Defra committee says it has “serious adverse effects”. Real harm is very unlikely,….

    This is completely WRONG. This person cannot say that “real harm is very unlikely.” Bute causes cancer in laboratory animals and NO safe levels are known. Bute was on the market for human use beginning in the late 40s. More than 1,000 people died from bute in the UK due to gastic ulceration and hemorrhage. Bute causes idiosyncratic side effects that are dangerous and deadly such as bone marrow depression and hypersensitivity syndromes.

    Again, bute causes cancer in laboratory animals and no safe levels are known.

    American horses are given all sorts of drugs including banned drugs like bute and sent to the food chain. The EU found bute and clenbuterol, another banned drug, in frozen horse meat that led to a temporary shutdown of all of the Canadian slaughter houses. Clenbuterol has been reported to cause bad side effects in humans from drug residue in meat.

    Doctors overseas do not know that horse meat derived from American horses is contaminated and will not associate any illness with contaminated horsemeat.

    The exportation of American horses across both borders for slaughter for human consumption MUST END.

    January 26, 2013