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Questions remain over horsemeat scandal

The current horse-meat scandal continues to top the headlines as further supposed beef products have been identified as containing up to 100% horsemeat and questions are therefore being raised as to whether consuming horse-meat poses any health risk.

Whilst horse-meat alone does not pose a health risk, it has been identified that a drug called phenylbutazone, known as ‘bute’ which was banned from human consumption several decades ago, could be present in the horse-meat  The drug used to be given to people suffering with gout and arthritis until it was established that it could trigger a serious blood disorder known as plastic anaemia. The disorder can be life threatening if not treated as it causes a loss of red and white blood cells. The drug is still used in veterinary practice as an anti-inflammatory and is commonly used to treat lame horses or those suffering with pain and fever and it has been confirmed that tests for the drug on the contaminated meat have been ordered.

However, The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advice remains that all products on sale are safe for consumption and experts have advised that the quantity of bute present in a horse-meat burger or lasagne will be approximately a millionth of that given when it was used in medical practice. The Government has therefore maintained that the likelihood of a serious health scare is very small and it is for this reason that the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, has so far been powerless to impose a ban on meat imports.

This is not to say that no action will be taken. Mr Paterson has described the contamination as a case of fraud against the public, where one material has been substituted for another and which will attract criminal action. The contamination has not only affected the UK, it is across Europe and it is thought that legal actions will be commenced throughout Europe potentially both for fraud and from companies such as Findus for compensation against their suppliers as investigations have indicated the contamination was not accidental.

Of course legal action for compensation can be made when an illness has been contracted from contaminated food. However, such action generally arises as a result of poor food storage and preparation resulting in food poisoning. Whilst the thought of consuming horse-meat may be sickening to most as it is not a choice they would willingly make, as long as no health risks are identified, those affected will not be entitled to any compensation other than perhaps a refund for the product which was not what it was sold as.

The country will no doubt be closely following this story as it develops. The FSA is this week continuing with their unprecedented level of screening on products and are expected to reveal their results on Friday which many believe will bring further bad news on the number of products contaminated.

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