The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has found traces of potentially harmful horse drug phenylbutazone in eight horses slaughtered in the UK – and warned six may have entered the French food chain.

The announcement, issued this morning (14 February), is the latest twist in the saga around the presence of horsemeat in beef products.

Phenylbutazone, also known as bute, is not allowed to enter the food chain as it can harm humans.

The FSA said 206 carcasses were tested between 30 January and 7 February, of which eight tested positive for the drug.

Six of the carcasses, which were slaughtered by LJ Potter Partners at Stillman’s in Taunton, were sent to France. The remaining two did not leave the High Peak Meat Exports slaughterhouse in Nantwich and have since been disposed of in accordance with EU rules.

The FSA said it is gathering information on the six carcasses sent to France and will work with the French authorities to trace them.

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The presence of horsemeat in beef products first emerged last month. Burgers made by Ireland’s ABP Food Group at three plants in Ireland and the UK and on sale at retailers including Tesco and Aldi were found to contain horsemeat, prompting recalls across the sector.

Last week, the scandal intensified when frozen food giant Findus recalled beef lasagne and other products on sale in the UK, France and Sweden after finding horsemeat in the meals.

Since then, retailers in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland have recalled Findus products and lines made by the firm’s French supplier Comigel.

The presence of horsemeat in beef products had been seen as a labelling and composition issue, rather than a safety scare.

The FSA today insisted the health risks from eating products containing horsemeat contaminated with bute are “very low”.

However, in the wake of revelations that horsemeat has been found in beef products, the FSA has this week introduced a new system of testing for bute in all horses slaughtered in the UK. The carcasses will have to test negative before they can enter the food chain and the testing regime means results come through in approximately 48 hours from when the test is carried out.

The news comes after the European Commission called on EU member states to test for traces of horse drug phenylbutazone, or bute, in establishments that handle horsemeat.