The chemical ‘bute’, or Phenylbutazone, and is an anti-inflammatory used by vets mainly to treat pain and fever in horses.
In the mid-20 century it was also used in human medicine as a treatment for gout and arthritis, but was banned – in food and medicine intended for humans – after it was linked to aplastic anaemia (a blood condition that inhibits cell production bone marrow) and the suppression of white blood cell production. Around one in 30,000 recipients of the drug suffered a serious side effect.
Horses that have been treated with bute are banned from human food by the Food Standards Agency. Last year the FSA found five instances of bute traces in horse meat, but none had been used for food in the UK. Appropriate overseas agencies were informed.
However, addressing the recent discovery that horse meat has been found in Findus lasagnes, the FSA comments: “In levels reported in previous FSA testing of contaminated meat, the maximum level found would have to be multiplied a thousand-fold to be at the same level as that which used to be given to humans. This suggests that even if someone eats contaminated meat, the risk of damage to their health is very low.”
Findus has tested its lasagnes and has confirmed that no trace of bute has been detected.