Results of EU Horsemeat Study Released

European Union (EU) officials found horsemeat in 5% of beef prepared food products sampled in all 27 member countries, according to an EU statement. Meanwhile testing for phenylbutazone (Bute) in horse carcasses showed little cause for alarm, EU officials reported.

“(Our) findings have confirmed that this is a matter of food fraud and not of food safety,” said Tonio Borg, EU commissioner for health and consumers.

The EU carried out 4,144 tests for the presence of horse DNA in beef products with a varying number of tests in each member country, depending on its size and “consumption habits,” the EU reported its website. Germany had the highest number of tests with 878; 29 (3.3%) of these tests were positive for horsemeat. Greece had 36 positive results (12.5%) out of 288 samples, and France had 47 (13.3%) out of 353. Only the UK, Ireland, the Republic of Malta, the Slovak Republic, and Belgium were confirmed to have no horse DNA in their sampled beef products.

Meanwhile, 3,115 horse carcasses in all 27 member countries were tested for phenylbutazone, and only 0.5% of carcasses tested were positive for Bute. The UK and Ireland tested the most samples—836 and 840, respectively—because these countries now require that all slaughtered horses be analyzed for the presence of Bute. The UK had the highest percentage of bute-tainted carcasses with 14 carcasses (1.7%). The Czech Republic and Ireland each had only one positive carcass, and all 24 other member countries were negative for Bute in slaughtered horses.

The results contributed to the conclusion made by the joint commission of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that health risks to humans due to Bute in processed horses were of "low concern for consumers due to the low likelihood of exposure and the overall low likelihood of toxic effects.” The main disease associated with Bute is aplastic anemia, a rare blood condition in which bone marrow and the blood stem cells that reside there are damaged. However, the commission stated it insisted on the unlikelihood of this occurring, despite concerns voiced primarily in the UK. “On a given day, the probability of a consumer being both susceptible to developing aplastic anaemia and being exposed to phenylbutazone was estimated to range approximately from two in a trillion to one in 100 million,” the MEA and EFSA reported.

Europe’s focus now is moving forward from the horsemeat scandal better informed about trading practices and with better traceability of products but without fear of health repercussions of the scandal for consumers, according to Borg. “Restoring the trust and confidence of European consumers and trading partners in our food chain following this fraudulent labeling scandal is now of vital importance for the European economy,” he said.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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