COTABATO - Five people are believed to have died from eating tainted horsemeat in the Philippines while as many as 60 may have consumed it, a local official said Wednesday.
Four horses died from unexplained causes and their meat was given away to residents in the largely rural southern province Sultan Kudarat on March 25, Henry Albana, the province's social welfare officer said.
Many fell ill after eating it, with the town of Senator Ninoy Aquino particularly affected, Albano added.
"The owners of the horses butchered them, then they distributed the meat to the residents. One of the owners was the first victim," to die after eating the meat, said Albano.
"Provincial officials are trying to locate all the others who ate the horsemeat. I estimate that as many as 60 may have eaten it," he told AFP.
Albano said some locals believed the horses died from eating grass newly-sprayed with pesticides. Health officials have yet to establish what happened.
Horsemeat is not commonly eaten in the Philippines but people in impoverished rural areas often resort to unusual meat sources such as field rats or frogs.