Following a request from the European Commission, the EFSA Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) was asked to deliver a scientific opinion on the public health hazards to be covered by inspection of meat from several animal species, with the contribution of the Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) and the Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW). Briefly, the main risks to public health that should be addressed by meat inspection were identified and ranked; the strengths and weaknesses of the current methods of meat inspection were evaluated; and recommendations were made for inspection methods fit for the purpose of meeting the overall objectives of meat inspection for hazards not covered by the current meat inspection system, and for adaptations of inspection methods and/or frequencies of inspections that provide an equivalent level of protection. In addition, the implications for animal health and animal welfare of any changes proposed to current inspection methods were assessed. This opinion covers the inspection of meat from farmed game, specifically farmed deer, reindeer, ostrich, wild boar and rabbit.
To fulfil this mandate, the first stage in this assessment focused on identifying the biological hazards that occur in farmed game in Europe. The relevance of each biological hazard was evaluated based on two criteria: (1) any evidence that the biological hazard is transmissible to humans through the handling, preparation and/or consumption of farmed game meat; and (2) evidence that the biological hazard is present in the farmed game population in the European Union (EU). Biological hazards that satisfied these two criteria were then ranked using a decision tree which considered such information as incidence of human disease caused by the specific biological hazard, severity of the disease in humans, epidemiological linkage as well as animal and carcass hazard prevalence. A decision tree was also developed for the risk ranking of chemical hazards into categories of potential concern based on the outcomes of the national residue control plans (NRCPs) for the period 2005–2010, and of other testing programmes, as well as on substance-specific parameters such as the toxicological profile and the likelihood of the occurrence of chemical residues and contaminants in farmed game. Farming of deer, reindeer, ostriches and wild boars is markedly different from rabbit farming and the types and likelihood of occurrence of chemical residues and contaminants varies between these animal species. Therefore, in the context of chemical hazards, rabbits were considered separately from other farmed game (deer, reindeer, ostrich, and wild boar).
Based on the assessment, the biological hazards; Salmonella spp. in farmed wild boar and Toxoplasma gondii in farmed deer and farmed wild boar were ranked as a high priority for meat inspection. Yersinia enterocolitica and Y. pseudotuberculosis were ranked as low priority in farmed deer. Y. enterocolitica and pathogenic verotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) and Trichinella spp. were also ranked as low priority in farmed wild boar, the last because of currently applied controls. The following hazards were categorised as ‘priority undetermined due to insufficient data’: Campylobacter spp., Salmonella spp., pathogenic VTEC and Hepatitis E virus (HEV) in farmed deer; Campylobacter spp and Salmonella spp. in ostrich; Campylobacter spp. and HEV in farmed wild boar; and Salmonella spp., pathogenic VTEC and HEV in farmed rabbit. For chemical hazards, no substance was classified in the high potential concern category for farmed game or rabbits; all substances were ranked as of medium or lower concern. It should be noted that the identification and ranking of biological and chemical hazards is based on current knowledge and available data and, therefore, should be updated regularly, taking account of new information and data and including ‘new hazards’.
Strengths of the current meat inspection were identified. Food chain information (FCI) serves as a two-way communication channel between primary production and meat inspection. It should provide information on the health status of the animals including mortality rates, occurrence of disease, veterinary treatments, specific laboratory testing, etc., allowing the evaluation of the health status of incoming batches and thus preventing sick animals from entering the food chain. In principle, therefore, adequate collection and proper utilisation of FCI can be beneficial to ante- and/or post-mortem meat inspection. Ante-mortem inspection of farmed game animals facilitates the detection of observable abnormalities and animal identification enabling traceability. Visual examination during ante-mortem inspection detects extensive faecal and other contamination on hides and feathers, which increases the risk of microbial cross-contamination during slaughter. This facilitates the implementation of preventative control measures. Post-mortem inspection detects visible, primarily faecal, carcass contamination and allows for removal by trimming and may also be used to assess the general health status of the animal.
With regard to chemical hazards, it was noted that chemical testing is based on common standards for method performance and interpretation of results, laboratory accreditation and quality assurance schemes. In the case of most farmed game (i.e. deer, wild boars and ostriches) the production site is known and, therefore, collection of FCI, traceability and follow-up mechanisms are possible. In the case of rabbits reared in integrated systems, a large amount of FCI is provided to the slaughterhouse which, in combination with ante-/post-mortem inspection, is supportive, in general, of the collection of appropriate samples for monitoring of chemical residues and contaminants. Also, for rabbits reared in integrated systems, there are well-developed systems and follow-up mechanisms subsequent to the identification of non-compliant samples, and the regular sampling and testing for chemical residues and contaminants is a disincentive for the development of undesirable practices.
A number of weaknesses of the current meat inspection system were also identified. FCI is probably underutilised owing to the lack of indicators and harmonisation across the EU. In its current form, FCI provides generic data that cannot be used to evaluate the risk of specific hazards of public health concern in a given batch of animals and cannot be used to distinguish between high- and low-risk farms. The main weakness of ante-mortem inspection is the inability to detect the zoonotic hazards identified as high priority for farmed game. Manual handling of meat including the use of palpation and incision techniques during post-mortem inspection does not contribute to the detection of biological hazards of high priority such as Salmonella spp., but may actually increase the spread these hazards by cross-contamination.
In the case of chemical hazards, a major weakness of the current ante-/post-mortem meat inspection procedures is that the presence of chemical hazards generally cannot be detected at the slaughterhouse level. For farmed game, including rabbits, there is poor integration between the testing of feed materials for undesirable substances and the NRCPs. For some farmed game species, such as reindeer, FCI may be incomplete (particularly relating to environmental contaminants) due to the fact that the animals are in migratory herds. For rabbits reared in small holdings, FCI may also be incomplete due to the trading practices for these animals prior to slaughter.
Control of high-priority hazards is currently reliant on the implementation of effective prerequisite (good hygiene practice; GHP) and hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) programmes in the slaughterhouse. More effective control of these hazards could be achieved using an improved FCI system and risk-based controls along the farm to chilled carcass continuum. This should include clear and measurable EU targets to be reached at the national level for prevalence and/or concentration of T. gondii in farmed deer carcassesand Salmonella spp. and T. gondii on/in farmed wild boar carcasses and, when appropriate, on/in farmed deer/wild boar farms/herds. An important element of an integrated farmed deer/wild boar carcass meat safety assurance system should be risk categorisation of farms/herds based on farm descriptors and historical data as well as herd-specific information, including monitoring of harmonised epidemiological indicators (HEIs). Improvement of slaughter hygiene should be sought in abattoirs with historically unsatisfactory performance, starting with a thorough review of current HACCP and prerequisite systems with follow-up improvement actions including technological and managerial interventions.
The possibility of identifying high- and low-risk herds/batches for Salmonella spp. in farmed wild boar before slaughter should be investigated, as should the development of Salmonella targets and/or reduction targets at the primary production stage. If Salmonella spp. is present in the farmed wild boar slaughtered at the slaughterhouse, improved hygiene is recommended. Decontamination methods should also be considered as a complementary ‘multiple hurdle’ strategy to control Salmonella contamination of farmed wild boar carcasses. As is currently the case for other livestock, process hygiene criteria should be mandatory for all farmed game species.
T. gondii in farmed deer and farmed wild boar should be investigated using a baseline study and thereafter controlled using risk management options such as freezing or heat treatment. This would be facilitated by a risk assessment; however, this is reliant on the successful completion of source attribution studies.
‘New’chemical hazards identified are largely persistent organic pollutants that have not been comprehensively covered by the sampling plans of the current meat inspection or which have not been included in such sampling plans. Due to the nature of the husbandry systems applied, farmed game are more likely to be exposed to environmental contaminants (including radioactivity in certain geographic regions) than some other farm animals, and therefore, sampling and testing plans should be developed for these chemical hazards.
Palpation/incision used in current post-mortem inspection should be omitted in farmed wild boar to reduce the risk of cross-contamination of the carcasses with Salmonella spp. from the lymph nodes. Although Salmonella spp. was not prioritised for meat inspection in farmed deer and reindeer, omitting palpation and incision should also be considered as these activities do not facilitate the detection of zoonotic agents but increase the risk of carcass contamination. Palpation and incision may be used during post-mortem examination if relevant abnormalities have been detected on/in an animal as a result of FCI/ante-mortem or other post-mortem inspection activities. This should be performed separately from the slaughter-line operation and accompanied by laboratory testing as required. The omission of mandatory Trichinella testing would most likely increase exposure of consumers to viable larvae, but to what extent is unclear.
With regard to biological hazards it is recommended that FCI be systematically collected and analysed for the high-priority hazards in farmed game at both the herd and abattoir levels. Research on the optimal ways of collecting and using FCI for risk categorisation and differentiated slaughter of farmed deer and farmed wild boar is required. Categorisation of farmed wild boar farms in terms of Salmonella spp.and T. gondii should be investigated with a view to implementing additional measures in the slaughterhouse for those hazards categorised as high priority for meat inspection. The efficacy of farmed wild boar carcass treatments to be used for controlling Salmonella spp. should be reviewed and further investigations undertaken as required with the specific objective of making recommendations regarding the most effective methods. Trichinella testing should continue in farmed wild boar and positive carcasses should continue to be removed from the food chain. The effect of this omission on the risk posed by non-meat-borne zoonoses such as Echinococcus granulosus, Fasciola hepatica, Dicrocoelium dendriticum and Mycobacterium bovis should be assessed.
With some few exceptions, veterinary medicinal products are not specifically licensed for farmed game and only a very few are licensed for use in rabbits. However, diseased or injured animals will be treated as required under the ‘Cascade Usage’ system. European Commission Decision 97/747/EC requires a minimum of 100 samples of farmed game (unspecified as to species) to be taken annually for NRCP testing, rather than the level of testing being proportional to the production of each species in each Member State (MS). Future monitoring programmes should be based on the risk of occurrence of chemical residues and contaminants, taking into account the completeness and quality of the FCI supplied and the ranking of chemical substances into categories of potential concern, which ranking needs to regularly updated. FCI for farmed game and rabbits should provide information on the specific environmental conditions of the farms where the animals are reared, including treatments, and any medication given should be presented in on-farm registries serving as FCI prior to slaughter. Control programmes for chemical residues and contaminants should be less prescriptive, with sufficient flexibility to adapt to results of testing, and should include ‘new hazards’. There is a need for an improved integration of sampling, testing and intervention protocols across the food chain, NRCPs, feed control and monitoring of environmental contaminants. A series of further recommendations, dealing with control measures, testing and analytical techniques, are made in relation to chemical hazards.
The implications for surveillance of animal health and welfare of the changes proposed to the current meat inspection system were evaluated quantitatively and qualitatively. The proposed changes included the omission of palpation and incision in farmed game subjected to routine slaughter at post-mortem inspection. In the case of farmed deer, reindeer and wild boar, this implies omission of palpation and incision of several organs and lymph nodes. In the case of farmed rabbits and ostriches, the current meat inspection procedure is already visual only; therefore, no impact is expected from this specific recommendation for these species. The recommendations for chemical hazards were related to the ranking of chemical substances of potential concern, to sampling based on the types and likelihood of occurrence of chemical residues and contaminants and on the completeness and quality of the FCI supplied, and to the inclusion of ‘new hazards’ in control programmes for residues and contaminants.
The assessment on animal health and welfare concluded that the elimination of palpation and incision would be strongly detrimental for the likelihood of detecting tuberculosis through meat inspection. As farmed deer and farmed wild boar can act as tuberculosis reservoirs, any reduction in the detection, due to changes in the post-mortem inspection procedures will have some consequences for the overall surveillance of tuberculosis. It is therefore recommended, from the assessment on animal health and welfare, to maintain palpation and incision of lymph nodes and organs, both for farmed deer and for farmed wild boar. Slaughterhouse surveillance was found to be far more effective than clinical surveillance for the detection of tuberculosis in farmed deer. The setting up of proper animal identification schemes throughout the MSs for these two farmed game species, and the inclusion of premises where they are kept in the national tuberculosis monitoring and control programmes, would help to the overall surveillance of tuberculosis. The prevalence and number of diseases affecting reindeer is very low, thus, changes in meat inspection are not expected to significantly affect the surveillance of animal diseases in farmed reindeer. The proposed changes to meat inspection are not expected to affect the detection levels for welfare conditions as they can also be detected during visual only meat inspection.
The assessment on animal health and welfare concluded that recommendations for chemical hazards would not have a negative impact on surveillance of animal health and welfare conditions.