04/17/2013 1:57PM

European agencies call for improved drug testing in horsemeat


Two European Union safety agencies have concluded that residues of the painkiller phenylbutazone from horsemeat found in mislabeled meat products “is of low concern for consumers” because it is unlikely to cause toxic effects, the European Food Safety Authority has announced.

But the EFSA and the European Medicines Agency called for improved monitoring and reporting of drug residues in slaughter animals.

The European Commission requested advice from the EFSA and the EMA after countries in Europe and the United Kingdom discovered undisclosed horsemeat in a number of products labeled as beef or other meat. Further testing of some of those samples revealed the bute residues.

Bute, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, often is prescribed to horses for a variety of ailments, and the European Union has banned it in slaughter animals, but anti-slaughter advocates have long contended that slaughter-bound horses’ veterinary records often are unknown, untraceable, or easily falsified.

The EFSA and EMA jointly recommended “introduction of a reliable identification system for horses” as well as improvements in reporting test results. In making its assessment of consumer exposure to the drug, the two agencies reviewed EU member states’ horsemeat tests over eight years and also considered consumers’ horsemeat consumption habits from surveys in 22 member states.

Bute has been linked to a rare blood disorder, aplastic anemia, and other bone marrow diseases. In 2003, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. banned its use in some dairy cattle and noted that the National Toxicology Program considered the drug a carcinogen.

The EMA considered setting maximum residue limits for bute in food products back in 1997 but concluded that it was “not possible.” The EFSA and EMA reiterated that position this week, saying that “it is not possible to set safe levels for phenylbutazone in food products of animal origin and therefore its use in the food chain should remain prohibited.”