Scientific update on TSE risks of feeding ruminants with fishmeal

Fishmeal is a high-protein supplement produced from the waste from fisheries or from fish not suitable for human consumption. Under TSE controls, it is currently illegal in the EU to feed fishmeal to ruminants, but the possibility of legalising the practice under certain conditions is currently being considered by risk managers.

EFSA’s Scientific Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) studied the experimental data on the possibility of fish harbouring TSE infectivity, either as a result of being deliberately fed meat and bone meal or through intra-species recycling in the practice of feeding farmed fish with fishmeal. It also looked at the risk of any such infectivity being passed through fishmeal to mammals. Experimental data show the risk of TSE occurring and being transmitted in this way is remote. However, in the event that fishmeal were to be allowed in ruminant feed, if any cross contamination with meat and bone meal were to occur it would be difficult to detect. This is because, despite recent progress, there is currently no method that provides a 100% guarantee of detecting small amounts of meat protein in the presence of large amounts of fish protein.

In the EU, meat and bone meal is banned since 2001 from feed given to animals farmed for food production, including fish. This has proven to be one of the most effective measures in reducing the risk of TSE. At the same time an EU-wide ban on feeding fishmeal to ruminants was introduced as part of emergency measures to control BSE. Whilst it has generally been considered that the role of fish and fishmeal in transmission of TSE to ruminants is minimal or non-existent, it was banned from ruminant feed to remove any possible risk.

This BIOHAZ opinion has been transmitted to the European Parliament and will be forwarded to the European Commission so it can be taken into account in any update to the existing TSE Regulation (EC) No 999/2001.