The European Commission requested that the European Food Safety Authority provides technical assistance on harmonised epidemiological criteria (harmonised epidemiological indicators, HEIs) for specific public health hazards in food and animals to be used by risk managers when they consider that the current methods of meat inspection do not adequately address the relevant risks. It is related to the mandate from the Commission for a Scientific Opinion on the public health hazards to be covered by inspection of meat.
In this report, harmonised epidemiological indicators are proposed for food-borne biological hazards that are related to sheep and goats and meat thereof and that can be addressed within meat inspection. These hazards include Toxoplasma gondii andpathogenicverocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli (VTEC), as well as mycobacteria, since the latter are already covered by current meat inspection. An epidemiological indicator is understood to mean the prevalence or concentration of the hazard at a certain stage of the food chain, or an indirect measure of the hazard (such as audits or evaluation of process hygiene) that correlates with a human health risk caused by the hazard. The epidemiological indicators can be used by the European Commission and the Member States to consider when adaptations to meat inspection methods may be required, and to enable Member States to carry out risk analysis to support any such decisions. It is foreseen that the epidemiological indicators will be used in the integrated meat safety assurance system for sheep and goats outlined in the Scientific Opinion on the public health hazards to be covered by inspection of meat from these animal species, particularly to help categorise farms/flocks and slaughterhouses according to the risks related to the main hazards identified.
The risk managers should decide on the most appropriate use of the epidemiological indicators at the European Union and national levels. Depending on the purpose and the epidemiological situation of the country, the indicators may be applied at national, regional, slaughterhouse or farm/herd level. The indicators can be used alone or in combination. They may be used to classify countries, regions or farms according to the infection status related to the hazards. Some indicators may also be used to evaluate the measures taken in the slaughterhouses to control a specific hazard.
The proposed indicators for Toxoplasma and pathogenic VTEC may be applied to classify the slaughter batches and animals according to the infection status or risks related to the hazard. For pathogenic VTEC, some indicators may also be used to evaluate the measures taken at the slaughterhouse to control the hazard or to assess process hygiene. In the case of Mycobacterium, epidemiological indicators are suggested to enable surveillance for the possible emergence of the hazard.
Most of the epidemiological indicators are proposed for subpopulations of sheep and goats at farm or slaughterhouse level using a variety of methods, such as visual inspection, serological or bacteriological tests. In the case of some of the biological hazards addressed it is accepted that there is a need for more research to clarify the factors that place sheep and goats at risk of infection, and the role of sheep and goat meat as a source of human infections.
The only comparable data available from the European Union Member States are those related to the official bovine tuberculosis free status that, in this report, has been proposed as one of the two harmonised epidemiological indicators for mycobacteria. No comparable data are available for the remaining proposed epidemiological indicators. For each epidemiological indicator addressed, the key elements of minimum monitoring or inspection requirements were defined. These included the animal population to be targeted, the stage of the food chain at which the sampling should take place, sampling strategy, type and details of the specimen to be taken, diagnostic or analytical method to be used, and a case definition.
At present, the majority of small ruminants are raised outdoors, and a considerable proportion are moved between premises during their lifetime. This excludes effective auditing of controlled husbandry conditions as an indicator for a large proportion of the population. If these husbandry practices change towards more location stable and intensive practices, it is recommended that the possibility of applying an indicator on controlled husbandry conditions for additional hazards be reviewed.
The implementation of the proposed epidemiological indicators will generate additional data that will provide a more precise picture of the epidemiological situation in the European Union for these hazards, and these data may be used to update the indicators, when appropriate. It is recommended that the Member States report the data generated from monitoring these indicators in accordance with the framework prescribed in Directive 2003/99/EC. The proposed indicators should be reviewed regularly in light of new information and the data generated by their implementation. In addition, it is recommended that the potential indicators left out of this report owing to current data gaps and lack of evidence are reviewed and their inclusion considered if more evidence is obtained.