This is the first time the drug, clenbuterol, has been found in a processed meat on sale to the public. Ministry of Agriculture scientists found the drug in two samples of ox- liver taken in shops last year.
Clenbuterol, commonly known as 'angel dust', builds muscle and reduces fat. It has an illegal market in parts of Europe, notably Ireland and Belgium, with farmers using the drug to raise the weight of cattle and athletes taking the drug to improve performance.
It has a legitimate use to treat respiratory disease in animals, but can cause palpitations and muscle tremors in people. In large doses it can be fatal.
Somerset County Council tested 27 samples of pate from shops in April and May. Its laboratory used a recently developed more sensitive test. One sample, from a pate of pork liver and pheasant marked 'made in Belgium', contained clenbuterol. A ministry of Agriculture laboratory in Northern Ireland confirmed the result.
Subsequent tests of different batches of the contaminated brand proved negative. The drug was present in the tainted batch at a level 40 per cent higher than the maximum permitted limit. The Department of Health insists that this is too low to have a harmful effect on anyone eating the pate.
George Stephenson, the scientist who carried out the tests, said it was rare to find the drug in samples: 'There is no evidence that this is a widespread problem, but it should not have been there.'
The Ministry of Agriculture began a national sampling survey of meat at the beginning of September. It said yesterday that the Somerset findings meant it would now intensify this to include pig livers. It will include 70 samples from retail outlets and 100 on imported meat. The work should be complete in November. The ministry said it would publish the results.
John Fryer, the county trading standards officer for Somerset, said he could take no legal action on the findings since the county laboratory was not officially approved. He added: 'I can only hope the ministry expresses its concern to the Belgian authorities and that they take action to prevent this happening.'Reuse content