Random tests for horse DNA in European beef products found that less than 5% contained horsemeat, the European Commission announced today.

Equine carcases were also tested for traces of the banned veterinary drug phenylbutazone (bute), which is not allowed in the human food chain. These tests found bute in just 0.5% of cases.

The tests began in February following the discovery of horsemeat in a Findus beef lasagne, and encompassed all 27 member states of the EU.

The EU said that 7,259 tests were carried out by authorities in the 27 EU countries, of which 4,144 were tested for horsemeat DNA and 3,115 tested for the presence of bute. Of those tests, 193 revealed positive traces of horsemeat DNA (4.7%) and 16 showed positive traces of bute (0.5%).

“I believe that we should adopt new measures in order to decrease the possibility of abuse in the future”

Tonio Borg, European Commision

There were a further 7,951 tests carried out by food producers, processors and distributors. Of these, 110 were found to contain horsemeat DNA (1.38%).

Of the EU-run tests, France found more cases of adulterated meat than any other European country, reporting 47 positive cases out of 353 samples. Greece found 36 cases in 288 samples.

The UK handed in 150 samples, none of which were found to contain horse DNA. Meanwhile, the UK reported more cases of bute in equine carcases than any other country: 14 positive results out of 836 samples. However, the UK has run more tests for bute than any other country, other than Ireland, which ran 840. The 14 carcases that tested positive were prevented from entering the food chain, the Food Standards Agency said.

Aside from the 150 tests conducted for the European programme, testing by the food industry and local councils in the UK continues, with some 6,000 tests carried out since the horsemeat scandal broke in mid-January.

Tonio Borg, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, said: “The results have shown that this issue has not been a full safety issue. In fact, only in 0.5% of cases was the presence of bute detected.”

Turning to the mislabelling of horsemeat as beef, Borg said: “Even though this percentage is relatively low, I believe that we should adopt new measures in order to decrease the possibility of abuse in the future. This would include a second look at the horse passport system, but also persuading member states to impose penalties which would be proportionate to the economic gain made by those who engage illegally in fraudulent labelling.”

A Defra spokeswoman said: “No horsemeat has been found in the latest tests of UK beef products. We are working with other EU countries to share latest information and plan coordinated action to tackle food fraud.”

Bute: ‘low risk’

A joint statement from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Monday concluded the risks associated with bute were of “very low concern given the estimated infrequency of consuming horsemeat containing residues of  phenylbutazone”.

The bodies recommended measures to reduce the risk to consumers even further in future. “Proposed EU-wide measures include introduction of a reliable identification system for horses… harmonising checks of phenylbutazone and improving the reporting of monitoring data for its possible presence in foods.”

Last week, tins of Asda’s Smart Price corned beef that had been contaminated with horsemeat were found to contain bute, albeit in quantities that posed a very low risk to human health. Asda ordered a recall of the product, which had already been removed from sale on 8 March following the discovery that it contained horsemeat.

Also last week, Dutch authorities ordered a recall of 50,000 tonnes of beef believed to have been contaminated with horse.

Analysis: Horsemeat - The European web