Bute Found in English 'Beef' Products

Fears of phenylbutazone (Bute) contamination in processed foods sold in England have been realized as the country’s food safety inspection board has confirmed presence of the drug in certain “beef” products.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced this week that a canned corned beef product marketed by the company Asda has tested positive for the presence of Bute. The product is currently being recalled.

The “Smart Price Corned Beef” cans were recalled in early March after horsemeat was found to have been substituted for the beef, the FSA reported. However, at the time, Asda had reassured its customers that even though the meat was tainted with horsemeat, it was still fit for human consumption. The new Bute findings, however, have now rendered the food unfit for consumption.

“If you have bought the above product, please do not eat it,” the FSA warned on its website.

Phenylbutazone is used occasionally in human medicine, but it is known to be toxic to bone marrow and could cause a rare but serious blood condition known as aplastic anaemia (a disease in which bone marrow and the blood stem cells that reside there are damaged). Its capacity to cause cancer or damage DNA in humans is not yet known, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Asda’s corned beef contained “very low levels of horse medication” which they specified as amounting to four parts per billion. “Even at such a low level, it is totally unacceptable,” said Asda’s quality control director Ade McKeon.

Since January, 22 of the more than 1,000 horses processed in the U.K. have tested positive for Bute, the Guardian reported the FSA as stating. Most of those were found after the February decree by the FSA that each individual carcass must be tested for Bute prior to entering the food chain, according to the FSA website; testing results are available within 48 hours.

A joint statement on the risk assessment of Bute in food for human consumption is expected to be released by the EFSA and the European Medicines Agency later this month, according to the Veterinary Record.

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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