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Harmful horse medicine may have entered human food chain

Reuters/Ina Fassbender

French authorities have revealed several horse carcasses containing a potentially lethal drug may have entered the food chain as the horsemeat-as-beef scandal in Europe widens.

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A spokesman for the French agriculture ministry told the news agency AFP that several horse carcasses containing Phenylbutazone have probably ended up being eaten by consumers.

Phenylbutazone is an anti-inflammatory treatment for horses which is potentially harmful to humans and by law is supposed to be kept off of plates.

Britain alerted Paris that six tainted carcasses had been exported to France in January, but the meat had already been processed by the time the warning came, the spokesman said.

Although some of the meat had been recalled, the equivalent of three carcasses had "probably" made it to consumers, he said, adding that there was only a "minor" health risk.

The revelations came as the French President, François Hollande, said he would push for European regulations to force the mandatory labelling of meat used in ready-made meals.

Speaking at an agricultural fair in Paris, François Hollande said the scandal showed there were problems with the ability to trace the origin of meat used in food products.

"I want there to eventually be mandatory labels on the meat contained in prepared meals. Until then, I will support all voluntary labelling initiatives, so that consumers can be informed about where their products come from, especially their meat" Francois Hollande said.

Until now, only fresh meat, fruits and vegetables are required to have labels specifying its origins. Food manufacturers do not need to label the origins of their ingredients.

Hollande estimated it will take “several months” of dialogue with other European countries, but said French producers and distributors should work towards this type of mandatory labelling in the meantime.

“To promote French quality, French production, French farming – all French products – we have one requirement on the European level, and that is the need for traceability,” he said.

The horsemeat-as-beef scandal first eruopted in January when horse DNA was found in beef burgers sold in Ireland and the UK.

It has since widened to involve beef lasagnes produced in France and sold as far away as Hong Kong.

The scandal revealed a complex web of producers, distributors and contractors in Europe’s food supply chain.

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