The substance is used as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever for non-food producing animals. It has risen in prominence because of its discovery in a small number of horse carcasses intended for the food chain.
The development came to light as a result of the increased scrutiny of the meat supply chain following the detection of unlabelled horse meat in products previously thought to contain only beef.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will carry out the analysis of bute.
‘All available scientific evidence’
“In carrying out the joint risk assessment, the two agencies will use all available scientific evidence and consider data and results of ongoing testing of horse meat in Member States as these become available,” said EFSA in a statement.
“The agencies have been asked to advise, where appropriate, if additional control options are needed to minimise any risks identified.”
On February 21 the European Commission (EC) adopted a coordinated plan on controls with regard to fraudulent practices in the marketing of beef products.
This includes a testing plan for phenylbutazone in horsemeat that foresees the testing of one sample for every 50 tonnes of horse meat.
Minimum of five tests
Each Member State is required to carry out a minimum of five tests, the results for which will be reported regularly to the EC.
The EMA assesses maximum residue limits for veterinary medicines in foodstuffs of animal origin. Its assessment of bute in 1997 led to it recommending that it should not be used in food producing animals, because there was insufficient data to enable limits to be set.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland found burgers with traces of equine DNA on January 16, 2013. Subsequently, meat products from a range of retailers, including Tesco, Aldi and Asda, tested positive for traces of horse meat. Findus France and Nestle products also yielded similar findings.
On February 13, EU agriculture ministers who agreed to random DNA testing of processed meat products in the wake of the scandal also agreed to test for bute.