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Does horsemeat endanger human health?

Does horsemeat endanger human health?

Publish date: 2013-03-08

The scandal of horsemeat in food articles induced different attitudes of people depending on their nationality and tradition. While in the UK eating of horsemeat is outrageous, in Belgium, for example, you can eat a salad with the meat of these animals.

Tags: medicine , europe , veterinary

The problem of illegal traces of horses in foodstuffs may potentially constitute a health hazard. The threat for humans ingesting horse meat stems from the possibility of the phenylbutazone presence. This substance, also called bute, is a type of non-steroidal inflammatory drugs. It was introduced on the market in 1949 for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and gout. Unfortunately, bute was found to be toxic for bone marrow and the exposition on this compound can lead to aplastic anaemia. Genotoxic and carcinogenic potential is also examined.

Phenylbutazone is applied for pain relief and to reduce inflammations in case of animals which are not dedicated for food production (e.g. dogs and sport horses). Since the use of bute to treat animals entering the human food chain is prohibited, the presence of this substance in the food articles suggests its illegal application.

Chris Elliott, a professor of food safety and microbiology at Queen's University Belfast told the Observer "In fact, the amount of bute that is likely to be obtained from eating a horsemeat burger is going to be about a millionth of that acquired when a person is given a dose of bute when used as an anti-gout medication. In other words, the risk of getting aplastic anaemia that is posed by consuming a horsemeat burger is very low indeed."

To assess the risk of phenylbutazone in horsemeat, the European Commission asked the European Medicines Agency and the European Food Safety Authority to perform a joint assessment connected with the presence of this compound. The scientific advice is to be provided by 15 April 2013 and will support the decisions of the European Commission with regards to the recent findings. The risk of the presence of bute will be analysed separately in case of horsemeat as well as the products illegally contaminated. The analysis will make use of data and tests of horsemeat conducted in Member States.  




by Jakub Chrustowicz


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