Meat from horses slaughtered in Britain for human consumption contained traces of carcinogenic drug

Phenylbutazone or ‘bute’ – which can cause cancer in humans - was detected by FSA testing in five cases at British abattoirs last year, the FSA admitted

Safety tests on horse meat in Britain have revealed the presence of a banned veterinary drug which causes cancer in humans, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) admitted today.

Phenylbutazone or ‘bute’ – which is legally used to treat sore joints in horses but outlawed from entering the human food chain - was detected by the FSA in five cases at UK abattoirs last year.

The FSA said that the contaminated meat had not been eaten in Britain.

However it admitted that the illegal batches had evaded the controls in place and been sent abroad for human consumption.

In an interview with the Independent last week, a leading food scientist, Dr Duncan Campbell, said that Government ministers were wrong to state with certainty that beefburgers containing horse meat were safe to eat.

He pointed out that the horse meat in them could have come from animals that were diseased or treated with veterinary drugs harmful to humans.

The discovery earlier this month that beefburgers in Ireland and Britain were contaminated with unlabelled horse DNA from unknown sources has raised concerns about the integrity of the meat supply system.

After apparently receiving a leak from official sources, the Shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh, raised the issue of ‘bute’ in the Commons this morning, telling MPs it had been found in British horse meat.

"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,” she said.

"It is possible that those animals entered the human food chain."

The Government did not confirm the detection of the drug, but the Defra minister David Heath said: "Where positive results for phenylbutazone are found, the FSA investigates and takes follow-up action to trace the meat."

Three hours later, the FSA issued a statement confirming that phenylbutazone had been found in horse meat in UK slaughterhouses last year.

The FSA said: “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. Where the meat had been exported to other countries, the relevant food safety authorities were informed.”

Although horse meat is ordinarily safe, little is eaten in the UK for cultural reasons. However meat from horses slaughtered here is exported to the Continent, where there is a tradition of eating it in France, Belgium, France and many other countries.

The FSA stressed that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland had found no trace of phenylbutazone in the beefburgers contaminated with horse DNA.

Chris Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University Belfast, said that the risk to the consumer from drug residues was “low”.

He added: “However, the use of veterinary medicines in all animal species that do go into the food chain is a matter of food safety and has to be treated seriously.”

The FSA and FSAI are still investigating the source of the beefburger contamination.

Ten of 27 burgers tested – equating to contamination of 37 per cent - tested positive for horse DNA and 85 per cent positive for pig DNA.

News of the problem led to British and Irish supermarket chains, including Tesco, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl, clearing 10 million burgers from the shelves.


Phenylbutazone is often used in horses to treat sore joints and aid recovery after fractures.

However research has shown that when humans or animals are exposed to high levels there are adverse side effects such as bone marrow toxicity.

Therefore the drugs is not licensed for use in animals that go into the food chain.

Professor Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University Belfast, said. “There is a system in place in Europe which should identify when horses have been treated with the drug to prevent them going for food production but the effectiveness of this has been doubted by many.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Female PE Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Teaching Assistant - Shropshire

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Teaching Assistants needed in Shropshi...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits