British Horse Meat Tests Show Low Incidence of Bute Contamination

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Veterinarian Robin Hargreaves, president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, comments on bute contamination of British horse meat.

The recent British scandal over horse meat appearing in food products labeled as beef has resulted in a wider investigation of the meatpacking and horse slaughter systems across the United Kingdom, which is believed to be the source of the contaminated beef that has also shown up in Ireland and France.

The critical discussion is centered in two areas this week: both the mislabeling of the meat and the possibility that the meat would be contaminated with residues of medication given to horses, especially phenylbutazone (bute). In Great Britain, horse meat containing bute is considered contaminated.

This morning the British government issued the results of a test for bute and the British Veterinary Association and British Equine Veterinary Association supplied additional analysis for the press.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has kept the discussion of horse meat’s suitability for gourmet cuisine alive in Britain.

Readers should keep in mind that British horses have mandatory health passports, or records, that keep track of medications given and whether or not the horse is being excluded from the human food chain. There is no known, stated or implied parallel between these statistics and any potential US horse meat analysis. US horses have no requirement that owners maintain medication records.

It’s very interesting to see how this news is being reported in Britain, or how it is being “spun”, in mediaspeak. While newspapers like the Guardian express shock that bute was found at all, the government and the veterinarians are downplaying the findings because of the low number of contaminations across the spectrum.

The British Veterinary Association briefing today reports:

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (“Defra”) Minister David Heath has announced the latest bute (phenylbutazone) test results. The presence of bute has been confirmed in 8 samples out of 206 tests.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies has stated that horsemeat containing phenylbutazone presents a very low risk to human health.

Responding to these latest developments the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) have issued the following statement:

“The presence of phenylbutazone (or bute) in horses intended for the food chain will be of concern to consumers who rightly expect the UK food chain to be robust. We are grateful to the Chief Medical Officer for clarifying the very low level of risk that this presents to human health and we will work with the FSA and Defra in any way we can to assist their investigations into these incidents.

“The ability to treat horses with bute is very important for equine welfare. Bute provides affordable, long-term pain relief for horses and is unique in this respect.

“The UK Horse Passport Regulations are designed to facilitate the ongoing medical treatment of horses not intended for the human food chain, whilst ensuring that these animals do not enter the food chain.

“We fully support the concept of the Horse Passport Regulations but have argued for some time that there are problems with the system in terms of the number of Passport Issuing Authorities and the vulnerability of the system to fraud. We are very keen to continue our dialogue with Defra and others to find ways to make the system more robust.


“Our members are aware of the strict rules regarding the regulation of medicines (including bute) and the use of horse passports, and in recent years we have provided clear guidance on the regulations to help both vets and their clients. These incidents will hopefully reinforce these messages amongst horse owners and all of us involved in equine healthcare.”

Guidance notes are available via the BEVA website Medicines Page.




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