Shouting myself horse – it’s not a food safety issue

So, the horsemeat saga grinds on. According to the media it’s a crisis but, in the overheated world of newsgathering, what isn’t? In practice, I can hardly find a single carnivore who is morally outraged at the thought of having eaten horse. The upset – and it really is no more than that – among such people is the labelling issue rather than the protein content.

The latest scare from the media circus is the possibility that the horsemeat might have contained the veterinary pharmaceutical ‘bute’. Used as a painkiller and anti-inflammatory on horses, phenylbutazone is acknowledged to have carcinogenic effects on people (to whom, historically, bute was prescribed for arthritis). From what I read, however, you must consume between 200mg and 800 mg of the substance, per day for that carcinogenic effect to kick in.

Approximately 8,000-10,000 horses are legally slaughtered for human consumption in the UK every year, of which, since 2005, between 2% and 5% have tested positive for bute. These horses should not have entered the human food chain, their veterinary ‘passports’ (deliberately or accidentally) lacking any reference to administration of the drug, or the animals had eaten food containing bute which was intended for another.

In reality, the trace levels of bute in the resulting meat would, in the opinion of the Food Standards Agency, require daily consumption of 500-600 horse meat burgers to cause a problem.

It occurs to me that, dividing the small volume of bute-containing meat by the number of convenience meals which might have contained bute as a result, and comparing the effect (in reality, what effect?) of that bute with, say, the smoking habits of the people consuming those meals, puts the whole matter into a rather less hysterical perspective.

For another good post on this topic, see this article from The Making Progress Blues.

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About Nigel Utting

Law firm project manager based in Jersey, British Channel Islands. When he isn't project managing, he's shooting clay pigeons with a side-by-side, polishing his collection of kukris or digging his vegetable patch.
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One Response to Shouting myself horse – it’s not a food safety issue

  1. David Gilson says:

    It is all rather hysterical isn’t it – I mean overwrought, not funny. I think though part of the “issue” is the cultural/social one – we (in SA as well as the UK) tend not to eat horse (or dog or cat for that matter) while other nationals are quite happy to do so.

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