The owner of the abattoir embroiled in the latest horse-meat scandal denied any involvement yesterday.
Stillmans of Somerset Ltd were named as the operators of the abattoir where six horses tested positive for banned painkiller bute.
But the owner of the family-run butchery, Mike Alford, stressed that he was not responsible for the slaughtering of any horses, explaining that he rents out his Taunton abattoir to LJ Potter.
Mr Alford said: “It’s not our company, actually. It’s LJ Potter from Bristol that kills the horses. He just rents the abattoir from us one day a week. Not every week but some weeks on a Wednesday he just brings his own team and the horses down, and sends them to France on the Thursday.
“I don’t have anything to do with him at all. He sends his own men and everything – he just rents the day. It’s nothing to do with us. We wouldn’t have anything to do with it. We don’t buy and sell horses, we have nothing to do with that.”
Mr Alford’s own team slaughter around 20 cattle a week, to keep their own local butchery supplied.
LJ Potter is a family-run business, operated by Stephen Potter and based at Whistley Farm, in the village of West Harptree, in Somerset. It is thought to be the second largest horse slaughterer in the country.
Mr Alford said: “Stephen said they’ve been testing them all for bute. Just remember the Food Standards Agency signed the paper and said they could be sent across the water, despite the tests taking three weeks to get results. No boning is done on site, they are all shipped away as carcasses.”
The abattoir and headquarters of Stillman’s is set down a country lane on the edge of the Taunton, in Somerset, but cattle were not being slaughtered there yesterday.
Mr Alford added: “We’re not a wholesaler, we’re a small company that just slaughters for our own shop. Those horses may have been slaughtered at my abattoir, but they weren’t my horses. We had nothing to do with it.”
Mr Potter yesterday stressed that none of his horse meat had entered the UK food chain. He is currently on holiday with his family – in France.
He said: “I have been thoroughly astounded at the number of companies that have entered the horse meat market in the last few years. I have been completely unable to understand why it was a market worth entering. We have been in this market for 50 years and have a considerable reputation for doing the job very well.
“I think that we have had constant niggling pieces of legislation that do not protect the consumer and have made it more and more difficult for us to work.
“If anyone had told me they were putting horses down and supplying the meat to a UK cutting plant, I would immediately be extremely suspicious. There is absolutely no demand for horse meat in the UK. It does not exist.”
Mr Potter added: “The reality is that the regime in place at the moment just doesn’t control bute. It’s utter nonsense. We fulfil everything and actually go beyond what we are required to do but the legislative process they have in position doesn’t protect the consumer from residues of this type.
“It is worth noting that the Government health official said the traces of residue were so small they were of no consequence to human health, but that doesn’t mean we’re not happy with it.”
A red sign outside the company farm contains the French name of a breed of cow, much sought after for its tender meat. The sign reads: “Whistley Farm, Pedigree blonde d’aquitaine.”
Mr Potter lives in a stone farmhouse in the grounds of his estate.
LJ POTTER PARTNERS - FULL STATEMENT
"LJ Potter Partners warned DEFRA that the Horse Passport Regulations would not ensure public health when the regulations were being drafted into British Law.
"All equines humanely destroyed by us have been accompanied by their passport permitting entry to the food chain.
"In addition to EU Regulations all suppliers are required to sign a declaration declaring that the animal has not been treated with drugs that would require permanent exclusion from the food chain, and that withdrawal periods have been observed for permitted drugs; prior to the 2005 regulations we required a strict 28 day withdrawal from all medication and in those circumstances we had zero positive test results for residues of Phenylbutozone during a period covering more than 20 years.
"We wish to produce meat that is wholesome, nutritious, good value and, most importantly, safe.
"The current EU Regulations have been proved, beyond all doubt, to be ineffective in permitting us to do this; they additionally are inappropriately excluding large numbers of horses from the legitimate food chain.
"It is our belief that this has been the causal condition that has led to large numbers of horses entering the food chain illegitimately.
"The fraudulent misrepresentation of horsemeat is a direct consequence of ignorant, mis-informed, badly drafted EU legislation.
"It is our belief that the majority of equines with a passport signed out of the food chain have a similar residue profile to those permitted to enter the food chain, and that the current news story proves that the Horse Passport Regulations 2005 & 2009 are wholly inappropriate to the control of equines permitted to enter the food chain.
"Having been informed of positive samples taken over the past two weeks, we have already taken steps to recall meat delivered to France in order to protect our French customers.
"We have, also, not processed horses this week to permit the FSA to put in place a test that is able to provide results prior to meat being despatched.
"We believe that this interim measure will ensure public safety. We will not process horses again until these measures are in place.
"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.
"We are seeking a fundamental reappraisal of the legislation to permit our legitimate industry to perform its dual role in protecting horse welfare and providing customers who wish to purchase and consume horsemeat with a product in which they can be confident."