David Heath, Minister of State for Agriculture, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), spoke to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee yetsterday about bute residues in horsemeat.
Highest levels of bute traces in the UK
EFRA Committee member and MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie asked Heath how he accounted for the fact that the UK had the largest number of positive tests for bute - the veterinary drug known as phenylbutazone and used on horses - across the European Union.
Heath said it was very difficult to give a definitive answer to that question, adding: "It may be associated with the level of testing we've engaged in." He said when bute was considered a possible issue, the UK started testing for it, but said he was not aware of any other countries carrying out similar tests.
When asked about further research into what other countries were doing regarding bute contamination, he said there were conversations, but drew on the chief medical officer's advice, which stated that the levels of bute discovered were not harmful to health. "Having said that, the system ought to prevent bute getting into the human food chain via horsemeat and it is clearly failing to do that at the moment."
He said this was one of the reasons discussions for improvements were being carried out and hoped a new passport process and database would be available soon. "We are pressing for an early resolution for this," he added.
Higher levels of testing
However, despite Heath's comment that the level of positive tests for bute could be attributed to more testing in the UK, Committee chair Anne McIntosh asked if there was concern over the number of positive results found. Heath replied: "As I said earlier, any positive tests means somebody somewhere has not been sufficiently assiduous in maintaining a passport in the form it should be."
Food Standards Agency director of operations Andrew Rhodes added that since the positive release system had been implemented, nothing containing bute had been released into the food chain. "The current test positive rate is less than 2% of horses being presented for slaughter," he said, adding none of them should test positive because horses treated with bute should not be presented for slaughter.
However, he reiterated that nothing slaughtered in the UK that showed a positive test result for bute was entering the UK food chain, because of the release system. "And we are the only ones in Europe to operate such a system," added Rhodes.
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