Horsemeat is Deadly to Humans: Ann M. Marini, Ph.D., M.D.

Reprint from Horseback Magazine

Ann M. Marini, Ph.D., M.D. Explains to Legislators Why Horsemeat is Deadly to Humans

Dear Representative Spreng:

I am contacting you because of the stealth legislation that James Viebrock added to legalize horse slaughter to the omnibus senate bill sponsored by Senator Mayer.

I am the senior author on a paper that was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal entitled Food and Chemical Toxicology entitled: “Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses bought for slaughter: A public health risk by Drs. Nicholas Dodman, Nicolas Blondeau and Ann M. Marini.

We show that 18 American Thoroughbred race horses were given race day phenylbutazone (bute) at various times (0.25-48 months) prior to being sent to slaughter for human consumption. As you may or may not know, racetracks around the country allow race day bute and the administration of bute is documented on the Equibase database that is available to the public. We also showed that 16 rescued thoroughbred race horses were given race day bute. If rescue groups did not outbid the kill buyers, more contaminated horsemeat would have been sent overseas for human consumption. Because we didn’t have access to veterinary records, it is quite possible that the horses sent to slaughter for human consumption were given additional bute. We could only trace the amount of bute given to horses within 24 hours of a race. One horse did have a positive bute level and one horse was documented bute administration by a licensed vet even though this horse did not receive race day bute. This result substantiates the fact that horses sent to slaughter for human consumption are given bute outside of the racetrack.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans phenylbutazone in any food producing animal, including horses (see bottom of page 3 of FDA order). Food-producing animals in the United States are required to have health certificates which ensures that the animals are not given banned substances. In contrast, horses are not food-producing animals in the United States and they are not required to have health certificates. Thus, there is no way to know whether a horse received a banned substance. Thus, there are no mechanisms to remove horses given banned substances from the slaughter pipeline. Our study indicates that 9,000 pounds of contaminated horsemeat (18 horses x 500 pounds of dressed horsemeat/horse) were sent overseas for human consumption over the five year study period.

The actual number of horses given bute prior to being sent to slaughter for human consumption is unknown. Based on the annual sales of one pharmaceutical company that makes bute, every horse in the America (10 million) would have been given one dose of bute. This estimate does not include compounded bute which can be purchased over the internet and is not tracked by the FDA. This means that our estimate is likely grossly underestimated.

Phenylbutazone was on the market for human use in the late 1940s as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. It was touted that it would eventually replace aspirin. Dangerous and deadly side effects began to appear within three years including bone marrow suppression that was fatal in many cases and a hypersensitivity liver syndrome that could culminate in liver failure and death. The National Toxicology Program found that phenylbutazone is a carcinogen, adding to its deadly nature. For these reasons, the FDA bans the drug in all food-producing animals. Thankfully, the drug is off the market for human use.

I have attached my letter, our paper that was published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, the FDA order and a letter sent to us under the Freedom of Information Act. You can see in the letter that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the regulatory arm of the USDA, found 8.3% of the horse carcasses violative for bute over a two-year study period. It is unclear why FSIS did not expand the exploratory program to determine the exact percentage of bute-positive horse carcasses. However, these results validate the results in our study. Moreover, there are other drugs that are banned in horses sent to slaughter for human consumption including the dewormer Ivermectin, acepromazine and clenbuterol. In the absence of a mechanism to remove horses given bute from the slaughter pipeline, which would likely be close to 100% of them, our results indicate that Missouri will be sending contaminated horsemeat for human consumption. To avoid this problem, the state will have to implement a program through the Department of Agriculture to require health certificates for horses that owners want to send to slaughter for human consumption. This would be similar to the horse passport system in the United Kingdom (UK). This would be a huge undertaking for the state and taxes may have to be raised to accomodate the small percentage of horse owners who wish to send their horses to slaughter for human consumption. I should also add that bute is banned in horses sent to slaughter for human consumption in Canada, the UK and the European Union (EU). In fact, the EU has come out with new requirements for third countries like the US that supply horsemeat to EU markets.

You should also know that horses have 1.76 times the blood that a cow which by definition will increase the number of and the amount of bute residue in contaminated horse carcasses (see our paper).

Please feel free to share these documents with your colleagues. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.

Best regards,
Ann M. Marini, Ph.D., M.D.
"From my earliest memories, I have loved horses with a longing beyond words." ~ Robert Vavra