EFSA provides preliminary advice on health risks of goat milk and derived products with regards to BSE/TSE

The Scientific Expert Working Group on BSE/TSE of the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Scientific Panel on Biological Hazards published today a statement on the safety of goat milk and milk products with regards to possible BSE/TSE risks. This follows findings of a research group in France concerning a suspected case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) infection in a goat. As a result, the European Commission (EC) requested advice from EFSA on the safety of milk and meat in relation to TSE (Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy) in goats and sheep. EFSA’s scientific experts concluded that in light of current scientific knowledge, goat milk and milk products sourced from healthy animals, and irrespective of their geographical origin, are unlikely to present any risk of TSE contamination. Experts recommended that the common practice of excluding animals with mastitis (inflammation of the udder) or other udder abnormalities as sources of milk continue to be emphasised as it provides further assurance on the removal of any potential infection including TSE. EFSA’s BSE/TSE working group advised that more scientific research data are required in order to assess possible risks associated with the consumption of goat meat and to be able to undertake a comprehensive quantitative assessment of risk associated with the consumption of goat meat and milk.

Following the announcement by a research group in France of a suspected case of BSE in a goat slaughtered in 2002, EFSA immediately commissioned work in view of updating previous scientific opinions concerning TSEs in small ruminants ,2. EFSA launched a feasibility study and consulted Member States in order to obtain an overview of existing scientific knowledge, new data and ongoing research projects. Through this study, EFSA will also assess whether the current information available would be sufficient as a basis for a quantitative assessment of possible risks associated with the consumption of goat products.

The EFSA Scientific Expert Working Group on BSE/TSE has provided preliminary advice concerning the safety of goat milk and milk derived products with regards to possible BSE/TSE risks. Given lack of available data, experts were not able to provide advice related to goat meat and other products at this stage.

Based on current scientific knowledge, experts concluded that milk and milk products from small ruminants are unlikely to present any risk of TSE contamination provided that milk is sourced from healthy animals. Such conclusions apply to all healthy animals, irrespective of their geographical origin. In order to further reduce risk, experts recommend that additional emphasis be placed on the common practice of excluding as sources of milk those animals which show any sign of inflammation of the udder (mastitis) or other udder abnormalities. This is important as infiltration of potentially infected blood into milk can occur when the blood/milk barrier is no longer or only partly effective i.e. in case of mastitis. In addition, scientists advised that analysis of certain milk parameters (e.g. somatic cell counts) could provide a practical and useful indicator for further assurance of healthy milk.

A comprehensive and quantitative assessment of the risks involved in the consumption of goat meat, milk and dairy products will only be possible if more scientific research data on the occurrence of TSE in small ruminants can be obtained. Such a quantitative risk assessment, if feasible, will take considerably more time.

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