Banned cancer-causing drugs have been found in horse meat for sale in France, but the health risk is low if eaten, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said.
Phenylbutazone, or ‘bute’ was banned for human consumption because it can slow white blood cell production and cause aplastic anaemia.
Horse meat is “not a risk in itself” and, although it is not possible to identify a safe level of bute, the levels found in previous FSA tested meat “would have to be multiplied a thousand-fold” to reach aplastic anaemia-causing levels.
“Even if you have eaten products which contain contaminated horse meat, the risk of damage to your health is very low,” the FSA said. Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said it is “understandable that people will be concerned”.
She said: “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.
"There is currently no indication that it is present in any of the products that have been identified in this country but the FSA has ordered further tests to confirm this.”
Frozen meat ‘safe’
Following revelations that some products marketed as beef contained up to 100% horsemeat, many consumers may be worried about eating frozen meat products.
The FSA has said it is safe and that “there is no reason to suspect there’s any health issue with frozen food in general.”
An FSA spokesman added: “We wouldn’t advise people to stop eating it and our priority remains to protect UK consumers.”
Despite the lack of health risk, the FSA described the situation as “appalling”.
The Food Standards Agency has ordered tests on all processed beef products as Findus withdrew all its lasagne meals from supermarket shelves.
The agency has requested test results by this Friday.
Findus tested 18 beef lasagnes and found that 11 contained between 60% and 100% horsemeat.
"We would like to reassure you we have reacted immediately,” a Findus spokesman said.
“We do not believe this to be a food safety issue and we are confident that we have fully resolved this supply chain issue.”
The food producer added that fully “compliant” beef lasagne will be in stores soon.
Findus is the latest food supplier to withdraw their goods from the shelves, following Tesco, Asda and Aldi.
The withdrawn food was produced by third-party suppliers in Ireland and France.
Bute is used in some people who suffer from ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis.