Horse News

‘Bute’ in Horse Meat Contaminated Foods and the Recall/Withdrawal Obligation

Source: CMS Cameron McKenna , Sarah Hanson and Jessica Burt of the Association of Corporate Counsel

…thresholds could not be identified and therefore no maximum residue limits established.

PhenylbutazoneThe European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) have published a joint statement (click here) on the risk assessment of the veterinary medicine phenylbutazone, known as ‘bute’, in the context of recent fraudulent practices that has resulted in beef-based products being contaminated with horse meat.

The main risks on residues of bute have been confirmed as; idiosyncratic blood dyscrasias and genotoxic/carcinogenic potential. Although the risk of carcinogenicity to humans from exposure was considered very low based on the available experimental data on organ toxicity and carcinogenicity, as well as on the low exposure levels and the infrequent exposure to bute from horse meat or adulterated beef-based products, thresholds could not be idenitfied and therefore no maximum residue limits established.

Exposure to bute from horse meat consumed as such or present in beef-based products was assessed on the basis of limited monitoring data provided by 19 Member States and of conservative assumptions. Up to 144 and up to 36 800 individuals per 100 million could be potentially exposed across countries and age groups each day. On a given day, the probability of a consumer being both susceptible to developing aplastic anaemia and being exposed to bute was estimated to range approximately from 2 in a trillion to 1 in 100 million. Measures proposed to further minimise the risk included strengthening of the horse passport system, harmonised monitoring of bute and its main metabolite and better reporting of monitoring of veterinary drug residues and other substances across the EU.

The Food Safety Requirements set out under the General Food Regulation 178/2002 deem food ‘unsafe’ if it is injurious to health or unfit for human consumption with regard to normal conditions of use and information provided to the consumer. There is also the rebuttable assumption that where any affected food is part of a batch then the entirety of that batch is similarly affected. Reference is made to ‘probable’ short or long term effects on health and subsequent generations, ‘probable’ cumulative toxic effects. The reference to ‘probable’ applies the Precautionary Principle. In this context the Precautionary Principle states that where there is scientific uncertainty plus the possibility of harm to health, measures necessary to ensure ‘high levels of health protection’ should be applied. However, critically, this should also be proportionate and no more restrictive of trade as necessary to provide a high level of health protection.

The responsibility for food business operators to initiate a withdrawal applies where there is ‘reason to believe’ that a food is not in compliance with these safety requirements and requires an immediate initiation of procedures to withdraw. Where the food has reached the consumer there is an obligation to effectively and accurately inform the consumers of the reason for its withdrawal. Only where other measures are not sufficient to achieve a high level of health protection is a recall specifically required. However, at the level of a perishable food product and a contamination of this kind, the very task of informing consumers would result in a de facto recall. It would ordinarily be deeply unattractive for a food business to seek to differentiate between the two.

Earlier this month, Asda recalled all batch codes of its ‘Smart Price’ Corned Beef because ‘very low levels’ of bute found in some batches of the product. The level of bute found were reportedly ‘considerably lower’ than the highest levels found in carcasses (the highest level found was 1900ppb). Nevertheless, traces of the medicine were identified, consumers informed and a recall instigated of this clearly demarcated product.

In contrast, also this month, some 50,000 tonnes of meat supplied by two Dutch trading companies and sold as beef across Europe since January 2011 that may have contained horsemeat are being recalled where possible. Inspectors examining the records of the Dutch trading companies found that the origin of the supplied meat was unclear. As a result it was not possible to confirm whether slaughterhouses had respected procedures. The Netherlands Food & Consumer Product Safety Authority has been reported as stating there was no evidence that the meat was a threat to human health, and it is likely that much of the meat has already been consumed. The recall is being carried out on the premise that the products only ‘may’ contain traces of horsemeat (and so presumably the possibility there is the possibility of small amounts of bute present.) Some of the suspect meat was also exported to Germany, France and Spain, where authorities have been alerted. The Food Standards Agency in the UK has confirmed that a small number of UK companies may have received products from the Dutch wholesalers. Due to the timescale involved it is likely that UK buyers have processed the meat and sold it on to consumers in which case they, in turn, are obliged to inform their own customers. In this instance, there should come a point where an appropriate risk assessment on the facts and reference to the requirement of being no more restrictive of trade as necessary to provide a high level of health protection does require an appropriate distinction between ‘withdrawal’ and ‘recall’ as anticipated in the Regulation.

20 replies »

  1. Isn’t it interesting that no one seems to care that there are numerous products which are federally prohibited for use in animals to be consumed such as Furacin and there are vaccinations, steroids, chemical fly sprays, DMSO, and vermicides which are frequently used on horses, particularly the AQHA and thoroughbred racehorses high percentages of which are disposed of by slaughter? All the interest is in Butte only.

    Adrenalin, which I understand is on the USDA list to check for in beef, is known to be very high in horse meat. Where’s the worry and investigation there?


  2. I respect the time and energy these individuals spent on this article/report and situation, but I still come away with…..DON’T EAT HORSEMEAT!

    That was an awful lot of words to essentially say, “the current situation with North American exports and EU purveyors is they are unable to sell safe horsemeat”.

    Wonder how much the “report” cost countries and the EU?


  3. ” Inspectors examining the records of the Dutch trading companies found that the origin of the supplied meat was unclear. As a result it was not possible to confirm whether slaughterhouses had respected procedures” and all the while statements were made by authorities that there was “no health concern” it was a “mislabeling issue”..It’s pretty bad when the entities that are supposed to protect the consumers are more concerned with covering their own asses..and pretty much say “eat this, I have no idea where it came from or whats in it, but its safe to eat cause I said so”


  4. Informative article, thank you R.T. for posting. Frankly, I am just waiting til Bute contamination is confirmed in US beef products, not that I eat meat because I do not! Regardless of the ‘low level’ of possible threat to humans, why would anyone choose to eat anything that has the potential to cause cancer, blood borne diseases, and seizures?! We don’t eat horses! It is impt now more than ever to promote passing of the Food Safety Act. I expect it to pass but with certain conditions removed from the pending legislation, unfortunately the end of horse transportation outside our borders…. I can just hear the GOP!


  5. I don’t care how much they “tighten up” their passport system. There will always be a way around this. The very fact that this scandal occurred at all shows the cleverness of the criminal element and probable looking the other way of food safety officers. They will never be able to ensure that horsemeat is not toxic.


  6. What floors me is the amount of money it must take to get everyone to ignore the laws and not look into any other dangerous products and to come up with abnormally overinflated figures on the likelihood of having something bad happen because of bute, we already could have saved scores of America’s horses. The money people have thrown into the pro-slaughter lobby and campaign to open the slaughterhouses could have tons of feeds for animals in each state. For every venomous article on how safe the horse is we could have spent our time wisely advocating to improve conditions in the horse market. For every moment lost tryin to read the meticulously written misinformation, notice the rabbit circled the holes a couple dozen times before dropping in the conclusion. They figure that horse people are stupid or they would be eating their own horses, but I am even more angry because horse people are notable for being intelligent, well informed, curious, people who read as much data, information, and updates on their industry as possible and then along comes a jerk who twists as many words into a droning, lengthy article to mislead you into believing this is a scientific analysis and its safe, so we are worried for nothing. Instead, we are certain now that a gigantic cover-up is in this, considering that this was the ONLY drug questioned. I am seriously concerned that we do not have an independent study in the United States that will help us to ascertain the truth. They also do not address if persons have any medical conditions and eat buted horsemeat, no word on certain illnesses and the drugged meat, and so on. I am tired of the relentless pitch that this is safe and that in the World War 2 we did it and loved it. Well in World War 2 nothing for animals existed, medications, vaccines, etc, were just being invented and we had no idea what damages could have came about at that time because they wouldn’t have tracked it.


    • They’re not investigating or researching (or publishing the actual research) the other drugs in the meat, because if they do, they’ll find its propbably worse & they’re being paid off to keep quiet


      • I’ve tried to bring up this point many times. The focus of the EU research is only on one drug, bute. What are the risks when a small amount of bute is ingested along with Clenbuterol, Ivermectin, Lasix, Rompun, Acepromazine, Winstrol, various vaccines, and Demosedan to name a few? The only way to eliminate risk is to eliminate slaughter. I completely agree with you. A lot of hush money has likely been flying around the EU.


      • THank you Joyce – I agree, there are probably pay offs but its probably worse than you think – its not just the EU – its in the US – courtesy of Brtish Petroleum who have been influencing the DOI &BLM into removing these horses from the Ruby Pipelin & others – funny, they’re not concnerned about the 9 million cattle that are roaming (not staring & not dehaydrating) in the same exact are where the horses are rounded-up (at least since 2010 or before). Federal Judges have stopped the roundups before, they can do it again – also policitians in DC & various states have been “influenced” as well – This behavior from British Petroleum looks somewhat like revenge for the US taking them to task over the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010. Look up some articles on the web from 2010 from the Animal Rescue Unit; PPJ Gazette & The Horse Haven of Tennesssee – google:
        BLM – British Petroleum & The El Paso Corporation & it will take you to these articles & others


  7. Folks~I want to go a little off topic today for just a moment. Just want to let you know what happened to me today. On Saturdays we have a lot of farmers markets here in Colorado. This morning I went to the farmers market at the Boulder county fair grounds. There were quit a few venders there-one gentleman was touting his grass fed, no grain fed organic beef. Impressed my husband so he bought a pound of hamburger to try. We spent the day out and when we got home I put the burger in the freezer and happened to read the lable. Well here is my surprize the meat is from the Atlas Meats in Ft. Collins, Co. and right on the lable it states it is ~ Halal. Now to some it may not matter but to us it does-we will be taking it back next Saturday and get our money back. So we might better start asking that question from these farmers market meat peddlers.


    • Halal refers to the slaughter method. The guy in the video spoke awfully fast but the gist of what I took was the slaughter not whether the animal is grain or grass fed.

      Now if your beef (pardon the pun)has to do with halal then think of it this way. I don’t know the Hebrew word but Jews have very similar slaughter methods. Main difference being language. Both religious groups use the EXTREMELY SHARP blade. In Jewish culture it’s one attempt–you have to get through carotid artery and jugular vein all in one. No second attempts or cutting back and forth.

      I looked into this a little a year or so ago. Halal if I knew where to go to buy it seems to me the best option. For me, it has nothing to do with religion but everything to do with the least amount of pain and suffering for the animal.

      I choose to think that the bleeding out process in 20 secs is pretty darn fast. Better than being shot in the head with the captive bolt and being strung up very much alive.

      In the end since the meat scandal broke I’ve gone vegetarian…


      • Margaret,

        Thanks fr the info – since the Horse slaughter scandal, I’m also thinknig about going vegetarian – how do I do it & get enough & the right kind of Protein?


      • Well I started with TVP. That’s texturized vegetable protein. I know of a place where you can get flavored TVP or just plain. Plain seems a good choice because then you can spice it the way you want to.

        Same place sells freeze dried veggies. For me that’s a great choice because of spoilage considerations. You rehydrate and then make stir fry.

        A couple days ago I was over at NBC of all places and saw an ad for Beyond Meats. Their chicken is FABULOUS! Totally vegan. It has the taste, feel and texture of chicken! I can again have my chicken and eat it too!

        Just go slow and take it one step at a time. I don’t know a smidgen of what others know.


      • The captive bolt works very well on cattle. They are brain dead in 1 second, not alive or aware like horses are. The chutes are designed for them and their heads are restrained, so there is no need to shoot them more than once.


  8. maryland department of corrections, as do several other corrections facilities- sell prisoner build products. They sell food products, several of them are food products. meat labled beef. ground beef called scrapple beef they sell for 50 cents!! a pound. stated as 80% lean. This food is sold to schools and other facilities. give me a break, no place can sell 80% lean ‘beef’ this cheap.

    50k stolen horses a year in the usa. 100k over the borders to be slaughtered. These people slaughtering and stealing horses support a criminal enterprise. There is no market for this much horse meat except the cheats who sell it as beef.


    • Lawfirms & groups who protect inmate rights should sue for investigation for this – it could be considered cruel & unusual punishment/treatment of prisoners. They shuold also sue for investigation into the Horse Slaughter scandal & put a moratorium across the board until its all investigated & researched completely


  9. Interesting article – but we need to have US investigations/research into this drug & others & stop the slaughter until those studies are over – I have a couple of questions for anyone who may know the answer:
    (1) Did these studies include consumption/exposure by children (in first & thrid-world nations) who, by their very size can be exposed with greater risk, espacially given the “critical windows” of expossure they are subject to during theire childhood & young adulthood developmen? &
    (2)The USDA gives away food (in USDA labelled containers) to lower economic people & since they ahve shown that they are prone to corruption at all levels & don’t care about the food supply – how much of this food is co-mingled with contaminanats of various kionds either in meat, produce, dairy, grain – that is given in large percentages o poorer people ho would be more susceptible to the adverse effeects for these very reasons?
    (3)Any health studies on individuals & communities that are relatively close to these USDA plants or for that matter, any plant of any kind that is “passed” on inspection by this corrupt agency?

    Experts in Toxicology &Pediatric ENvironmental Health can be found at anyUniversity.


  10. Having issues with the numbers….
    “Exposure to bute from horse meat consumed as such or present in beef-based products was assessed on the basis of limited monitoring data provided by 19 Member States and of conservative assumptions.”

    Exactly what numbers are they using here? and what assumptions?

    ‘”Up to 144 and up to 36 800 individuals per 100 million could be potentially exposed across countries and age groups each day.”

    which is it – 144 or 36800 exposed to their ‘assumptions’ or to a known amount of injested beef or to a fabricated extrapolated number based on the few tests for bute?

    ” On a given day, the probability of a consumer being both susceptible to developing aplastic anaemia and being exposed to bute was estimated to range approximately from 2 in a trillion to 1 in 100 million.”
    Which probability did they use – this is a skewed.

    Wonder how their numbers would look if they calculated the number of horses imported from the US as a percent of the total with 80% positive for bute…. Would look quite a bit different . I can understand not wanting to create a mass panic but it is unfair to the people to believe their is no health risk – especially once US horses are figured in. And NO – I don’t believe that only US horses are drugged.


  11. Remember there was that British doctor (?) health official who said that you could consume 500-600 horse burgers a day safely. I have NO IDEA where this person got there facts from…

    An exposure is an exposure. It doesn’t care how big or little it is. Bute doesn’t say oh you’re this person so we can’t harm you but we can harm someone else.

    I’m not sure why folks have taken to screwing with the food chain. Seems to me that before the 90’s (?) people were more cautious about screwing with the food chain. Now it really is about getting over.


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