Has the real medical and veterinary concern posed by horsemeat been understated?

9 Feb

Those who receive their news only from the radio should note the angle recorded by other media, including the Business Insider and BBC websites:

Whenever Business Insider posts a story about the ongoing horse meat scandal in the U.K. and Ireland it receives a number of comments suggesting that the British should be fine with eating horsemeat, as many other nations see no problem with eating meat from the animal. However, as many report, while horse meat is intrinsically no less safe than beef, the drugs which might be in meat exported in the course of what the Food Standard Authority describes as “criminal and fraudulent activity”, give cause for concern.

Horsemeat in products withdrawn from various supermarkets is being tested for the veterinary anti-inflammatory drug bute (phenylbutazone) which – as the BBC’s Environment Correspondent, Matt McGrath reports – was used as an anti-inflammatory medicine until it was banned.

Dangers understated? Dubious US/Mexico/Canada operations

McGrath added that “In rare cases it caused a serious blood disorder known as aplastic anaemia”, but a Food and Chemical Toxicology abstract reports more serious consequences to those taking this drug, which was first marketed in the United States for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and gout in 1952:

“Serious and often fatal adverse effects such as aplastic anemia and agranulocytosis appeared in the literature within three years of its use (reports cited). The serious adverse effects of PBZ culminated in its unavailability for human use in the United States. Because of the bone marrow toxicity caused by PBZ in humans, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set no safe levels of PBZ in animals intended for food and bans the administration of this drug in any horse sent to slaughter for human consumption (http://www.fda.gov/cvm/CVM_Updates/buteup.htm – link no longer active).

The U.K. slaughters around 8,000 horses a year to be exported to other countries for food. These horses are tested before they go, but McGrath reports that the UK’s  Veterinary Residues Committee warned last year that these tests were not thorough, and small but noticeable amounts of bute were getting through.

He points out that research published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology in 2010 highlighted this risk; EU officials warned last year about serious problems in verifying the drug-free status of horses, sent from America to be killed in Mexico and Canada after US slaughter houses were found to be breaking this law in 2007: http://www.horseprotection.it/docs/phenylbutazone.pdf, page 1.

 

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