Horse meat in the food chain

The German authorities have been informed, via the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), of the possibility of wrongly labelled products containing horse meat. According to statements of the retail industry, in Germany laboratory tests have detected horse meat in individual samples, and products have been taken off the shelves as a precaution.

The British Food Standard Agency (FSA) has found phenylbutazone residue in samples of horse meat. It is not as yet possible to say whether products in Germany are contaminated with the substance. The use of the active ingredient phenylbutazone is banned in animals used for food production. The British authorities have so far only reported traces of phenylbutazone in horse meat. If the German and European food control authorities confirm that there are no instances of higher residue levels, adverse health effects on consumers resulting from the consumption of such foods are unlikely.

For the detecting of horse meat in food, an official method has been available in the Federal Republic of Germany since 2002. For this purpose, a biomolecular method is used. As part of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), horse meat is detected by systematically searching for horse-specific DNA. The PCR procedure for the detection of horse meat has been validated, under the auspices of the BfR, by the task force “Animal and Plant Identification”. This procedure is part of the official compilation of test procedures in accordance with §64 of the Food and Feed Code (LFGB).

In addition, the BfR has initiated and headed a European research project on the issue of animal and plant identification (MolSpec-ID) and was involved in a further project funded by the EU entitled “Tracing the origin of food” (TRACE) for determining the origins of foods. As part of this project, a freely accessible database was set up which contains various validated PCR procedures for determining animal and plant species (http://www.trace.eu.org/mbdb/).

Testing products to ensure that they can safely be sold is the responsibility of the federal state authorities in charge of food control. On the basis of scientific criteria, the BfR assesses the health risks posed by different types of food.

Dated 15/02/2013

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