Bute In Britain

Veterinarians in Britain are campaigning for government recognition of two distinct categories of horse: 1) sport and pleasure, and 2) human consumption. It sounds horribly clinical, but United Kingdom veterinarians believe it is the only way particular drugs will be allowed to help horses in the first group. Those in the second group would be banned from receiving drugs such as Bute (phenylbutazone).

Bute hit the headlines last fall when the European Union (EU) said the drug would no longer be allowed in "food-producing animals," which, in most countries of Europe, include the horse. This is because some people have had side-effects while taking the drug and it is felt that, should they unknowingly ingest the drug in meat, they might be adversely affected.

Sue Dyson, MA, VetMB, PhD, DEO, FRCVS, of Newmarket's Animal Health Trust, said: "We are working under an unwritten agreement-the British government has allowed us to continue to use Bute provided the horse will never enter the human food chain. We are campaigning for all horses used in sport or for pleasure to be microchipped (so that the carcass would be identifiable as non-food material)." She said an owner would have to decide in which group his or her horse belonged and if, say, an ex-sport horse retired, the current or future owner(s) would not be able to switch the horse's category to "food-producing."

While awaiting possible microchipping or agreement on some other form of permanent marking, many veterinarians in Britain are attempting to cover themselves legally. Tim Greet, a veterinarian in one of the two major firms in Newmarket, said: "We have written to all our clients asking them to accept that their horse(s) will be treated as never being accepted into the human food chain. With outside cases coming in, we ask the owner to sign an indemnity form saying that the animal is not going to be used for meat purposes."

The unofficial agreement is good only in Britain--in the rest of the EU, Bute is illegal in horses.

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Sue Wreford

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