The grim reality of our abattoirs: Grisly image from inside Somerset slaughterhouse at centre of danger drug probe shows brutal last seconds of pony’s life
- LJ Potter of Taunton kills 63 horses a week
- Owner Stephen Potter sells his horsemeat through 50 butchers in Calais
- Meat from three of the six horses containing bute have been sold and eaten
- The meat from the second three has been recalled
This is the grisly scene played out every day inside the Somerset slaughterhouse which sent six horses containing danger drug bute into the human food chain.
A slaughterman balances a rifle against the pony’s head and pulls the trigger. The animal flails on the ground and is then winched on to the production line where her throat is cut with a razor sharp knife, severing the carotid artery.
The company LJ Potter of Taunton kills 63 horses a week using this method, with the carcasses shipped to France for food.
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Last seconds: This is the grisly scene played out every day inside the Somerset slaughterhouse which sent six horses containing danger drug bute into the human food chain
The business is run by Stephen Potter, who said he sells his horsemeat through 50 butchers in the Calais area.
Meat from three of the six horses found to contain the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone, known as bute, has been sold and eaten, while meat from the second three has been recalled.
Mr Potter said he bought ponies, thoroughbreds and riding stable horses that are old or injured.
‘People come to us to dispose of their horses because they feel we do it very well,’ he said.
‘We wish to produce meat that is wholesome, nutritious, good value and, most importantly, safe.
‘We firmly believe that the humane destruction of horses for the human food chain has an important role to play in ensuring horse welfare, as otherwise unwanted horses would be left to enter a downward spiral to neglect.’
The details have triggered a fierce political row, with Labour accusing the government of ‘catastrophic complacency’ in its handling of the horsemeat scandal.
Grisly: LJ Potter of Taunton kills 63 horses a week using this method, with the carcasses shipped to France for food. The business is run by Stephen Potter, pictured. This is a file picture
Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh, warned ministers of the danger of bute contamination on January 24, however horses containing the drug continued to be slaughtered and exported for food.
It was not until this week that a new regime, which stops horsemeat being sold until tests show it is negative for bute, was introduced.
She challenged food minister David Heath in the Commons yesterday, saying: ‘We must make sure horsemeat intended for humans is not contaminated with bute, it really is as simple as that.
‘So why did you not act immediately when I raised this issue three weeks ago in this House?’
She added: ‘It’s astonishing. We were in the middle of a horsemeat adulteration scandal, this is just catastrophic complacency from you.’
Mr Heath said the government is working with the French authorities to track the British horse carcasses killed at Mr Potter’s abattoir.
He also insisted that Britain is leading the way in getting European co-operation to track down the criminals responsible for the scandal.
Slaughterer: Mr Potter, pictured, said he sells his horsemeat through 50 butchers in the Calais area. This is a file picture
‘We have probably the biggest investigation that has ever been conducted across Europe into criminal behaviour, going on at the instigation of this Government,’ said Mr Heath.
He described Britain’s role as a ‘quite remarkable achievement in a very short time’.
Throughout the crisis, ministers have argued the horsemeat contamination is a matter of food fraud rather than a health risk.
News that British horses containing bute have entered the food chain suggests these were premature.
In theory, high doses, far more than would be present in a horsemeat burger, can induce blood disorders, including aplastic anaemia.
This means the bone marrow stops making enough red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets for the body, putting people at risk of life-threatening infections.
However, the Government’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, yesterday insisted any risk to consumers is small.
‘Horsemeat containing phenylbutazone – bute- presents a very low risk to human health,’ she said.
Row: Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh, right, warned ministers of the danger of bute contamination on January 24. She challenged food minister David Heath, left, in the Commons yesterday
‘At the levels of bute that have been found, a person would have to eat 500 – 600 one hundred per cent horsemeat burgers a day to get close to consuming a human’s daily dose.
And it passes through the system fairly quickly, so it is unlikely to build up in our bodies.
‘In patients who have been taking phenylbutazone as a medicine there can be serious side effects but these are rare. It is extremely unlikely that anyone who has eaten horse meat containing bute will experience one of these side effects.’
Mr Potter did not respond to calls asking about his methods and where the six horses were sent in France.
Speaking in 2007, he defended what he does, saying: ‘We will all be old at some point and may spend our later years in great discomfort, horses are the same.
‘The horses are handled in a stress-free manner, by professional people and despatched with the minimum of fuss. None of us could ask for anything better than that.’
A Yorkshire abattoir owner, Peter Boddy, has been accused of providing horses to a factory in Wales where they were passed off a beef and turned into burgers and kebabs.
Mr Boddy is contracted to remove fatally injured horses from racecourses, including Aintree and the Grand National.
Yesterday, the racing authorities said measures are in place to ensure horses killed on the track cannot be sold for food.
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