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black bute-y

In the comprehensive coverage of this "biggest ever investigation" into the meat trade, one statistic seems to be missing: How many dead?

Not how many horses. How many people? Not one.

Stick a bit of horsemeat into a frozen lasagne and the full might of the police and food regulatory bodies is brought to bear. Within a few weeks of the first discovery of equine flesh having been surreptitiously introduced into the great British diet, there have been dawn raids, arrests of abattoir operatives, and many emergency statements in the Commons.

How different from a few years ago when mechanically recovered meat (MRM) was regularly served up to the public in pies and burgers. MRM, also referred to as pink slime, was made by forcing animal carcasses through a sieve at high pressure to retrieve scrapings of flesh the butchers' knives couldn't get at.

When humans started to die from the bits of mad cow spinal cord, this paste-like product was replaced by de-sinewed meat (DSM), supposedly healthier because it is put through the sieve at a lower pressure.

The days of gunky slimy stuff being put willy-nilly into food was surely when police and regulatory bodies should have been raiding abattoirs and processing plants.

DSM started to disappear from processed foods last year after the European Union ruled it could not be labelled as meat. Which is when some suppliers to the makers of supermarket "value" brands scoured the knackers yards of Europe for horsemeat as a replacement ingredient. As well as being regarded as only suitable for consumption by johnny foreigner, our friend the cheval is now demonised for being dangerously full of a drug called phenylbutazone or bute.

Bute, in my experience, is addictive. You start off with a bit of Rothesay and a side portion of Port Bannatyne. Then you want the whole island and, before you know it, Arran, Islay and great swathes of the Hebrides. (End of light-hearted digression.) The truth about horsey bute, according to the UK Government chief medical officer, is that you would have to eat 600 quarter-pounders of horseburger in one day to get a dose dangerous to humans.

Please do not try this 600-burger-a-day experiment as you will likely end up on that Channel 4 Supersize programme in your underwear and with your belly hanging below your knees.

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Food and drink

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