TRACES of a drug that can cause cancer have entered the human food chain in France from horses slaughtered in Britain, David Heath, the British Agriculture Minister, has said.
Answering an urgent question in the House of Commons, Mr Heath disclosed that the Food Standards Agency's recent tests on horse carcasses slaughtered in the UK found traces of the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, or bute, in eight carcasses.
The minister said that three of those samples may have entered the food chain in France.
Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, said it was "astonishing" given that she had first raised the problem in the Commons last month.
Mr Heath said the Government has instigated the "biggest investigation ever" into criminal activity in Europe over horse meat contamination of beef products.
Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, met with European counterparts yesterday to agree plans for random testing of meat products for bute as well as for horse DNA.
Updating MPs on developments, Mr Heath said the most recent tests by the Food Standards Agency saw 206 horse carcasses tested for bute.
Would you eat horse meat?
Yes, the French do. It is delicious and perfectly healthy.No. It may be 'irrational' to differentiate between eating different animals, but I do it all the same.
"Eight have come back positive, three may have entered the food chain in France, the remaining five have not going into the food chain," he said.
"The FSA is working with the French authorities in an attempt to recall the meat from the food chain."
He added: "The results of bute testing in the withdrawn Findus products have come back negative."
Mrs Creagh said: "I raised the problem of bute-contaminated horse meat being released into the food chain with you at Defra questions last month.
"What action did you take with the FSA to reassure yourself after I raised those concerns? Were you aware of bute contamination before that day?
"Can you explain why until four days ago all horses were being tested for bute in this country but still released for human consumption?
"I'm astonished to hear that another three could potentially have entered the food chain in France when I raised this with you last month.
"It's astonishing. We were in the middle of a horse meat adulteration scandal, this is just catastrophic complacency from you."
Mr Heath said the European action led by Mr Paterson was a "quite remarkable achievement in a very short time".
We have probably the biggest investigation that has ever been conducted across Europe into criminal behaviour, going on at the instigation of this Government," he said.
- Peter Dominiczak, Telegraph.co.uk