Deciphering science-speak: What is phenylbutazone?

Those who have been following the ongoing story regarding horse meat found in beef products in the United Kingdom (U.K.) may have noticed concerns about a pain drug used to treat horses.

Phenylbutazone, or bute, is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used to treat pain and soft tissue inflammation in horses and to treat a type of arthritis in humans.  Horses that have been given bute and test positive for it are not allowed to enter the food chain, according to the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Many countries ban meat containing bute from entering the food chain as there is a small chance for adverse health effects, such as aplastic anemia, a bone marrow disorder.

In 2012, FSA found nine cases where horses tested positive for bute. None of the meat reached store shelves in the U.K. and the agency informed food safety authorities in other nations if the meat had been exported, according to FSA.

The agency administers a similar testing program for horses and as it does for cattle and sheep destined for human consumption, which includes a check for bute. Given the current situation, FSA announced it will implement a positive release system, meaning horse meat must test negative for bute before it can be sold for consumption.

Officials have maintained there is no risk to food safety, given the products that tested positive didn’t reach consumers.

“There is currently no indication that phenylbutazone – bute – is present in any of the products that have been identified in this country but the FSA has ordered further tests to confirm this,” the U.K.’s Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said in a statement. “It’s understandable that people will be concerned, but it is important to emphasis that, even if bute is found to be present at low levels, there is a very low risk indeed that it would cause any harm to health.”

Concerns about bute arose following the discovery of horse and swine DNA in some beef products sold in the U.K. last month. The discovery was the result of an Irish probe into meat authenticity. Of 27 beef burgers tested, 10 contained horse DNA and 23 contained pig DNA.

For more on this story, check out previous Neogen blog posts here.

For more information on species identification testing from Neogen, click here.

For more information on testing for bute and other drugs, click here.

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