WITH the pheasant-shooting season barely a week old, chefs are increasingly concerned that some pheasant on the market may not be safe to eat.
Up to 80 per cent of gamekeepers, in an effort to breed as many birds as possible, have fed them a drug banned in most of the developed world because it is linked to cancer.
London's game restaurants have attacked the use of the drug, called Emtryl, as "unnecessary" and warned diners to make sure they know exactly what they are eating.
Gamekeepers use the drug because it can kill the bacteria responsible for most serious illnesses in game birds, allowing huge flocks to be reared.
Julian Payne, of Rules restaurant in Covent Garden, said: "It would be unfortunate if anyone ate pheasant containing this substance. We would not serve any game that has been contaminated with Emtryl.
"The only way diners can be sure of getting pheasant not contaminated is to ask for genuinely wild birds."
Consumers have also been urged to be cautious about pheasant- based pate and confit. Retailers should be asked whether the birds used to make them have been fed Emtryl.
Ranald McDonald, managing director of Boisdale in Belgravia, said: "I am shocked to discover the extent to which the drug is used. It is extremely worrying that meat which has been contaminated by Emtryl might be served anywhere.
We concentrate on serving wild game."
The World Health Organisation says any residue of Emtryl could be unsafe in food. The drug, also known as dimetridazole, was banned in America a decade ago after tests showed a "significant increase in the occurrence of mammary tumours in rats".
The EU banned the drug as a potential carcinogen six years ago in all member countries, apart from Britain, which claimed it was necessary to preserve game birds' health.
Even so, it is banned except for rearing-partridge and pheasant. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation believes 80 per cent of gamekeepers use the chemical regularly, and that nearly all other breeders use Emtryl when a disease breaks out.
The Government has taken no steps to stop the drug's use or to warn of any potential food dangers. It says it is safe if 28 days is allowed before the pheasants are killed. The Food Standards Agency said it had asked the manufacturers, British drugs firm Merial, to provide material for scientific tests to establish its safety.
Merial has suspended production of Emtryl after the EC challenged the legality of Britain's exemption to sell it. Its spokesman said: "This is a temporary suspension while we await the results of the legal challenge by the European Commission.
Emtryl has been extensively tested for safety and the withholding period of 28 days ensures no residues are present."
Twenty-five million pheasants aged over six months are shot in Britain every year, according to the Game Conservancy Trust Originally from Asia, pheasants were introduced to Britain by the Romans The pheasant-shooting season runs from 1 October to 1 February The Country Landowners' Association estimates pheasant shooting may be worth pounds 1 billion a year to the rural economy Celebrities who enjoy pheasant shooting include Madonna, Guy Ritchie, Vinnie Jones, Bryan Ferry, Steve Winwood, Marco Pierre White and Ian Botham More than three-quarters of the pheasants shot here are exported to Europe to be turned into pate or confit
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.