EFSA publishes advice on the consumption of young sheep and goats - coming from TSE affected flocks

EFSA was asked by the European Commission for advice on the consumption of young sheep and goats from flocks affected by transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), such as scrapie. With the exception of BSE, TSEs in animals have not been found to be transferable to humans. EFSA’s Biological Hazards Panel (BIOHAZ) assessed the possible additional risk to public health, if the consumption of sheep and goats originating from TSE affected flocks were to be extended from the current 3 months of age up to 6 months of age, accompanied by the removal of organ and body parts in addition to those already removed. EFSA’s BIOHAZ Panel concluded that it was not possible to compare these two options, owing to insufficient data. In addition, the Panel said that there were some indications that there would be an increase in the level of scrapie infectivity in the lymph nodes of affected sheep and goats between the age of 3 and 6 months.

Classical scrapie, which is the most common form of TSE among sheep and goats, is present in 0.1% of the general sheep population. In scrapie affected flocks, it is estimated that scrapie is present in between 3% and 41% of the animals. Animals infected with scrapie are destroyed. However, animals from TSE affected flocks under 3 months of age can presently be sent for human consumption after a test confirms non-presence of BSE in the affected flock. In addition, the spleen and ileum are removed from sheep and goats of all ages before being sent for human consumption.

The European Commission is presently considering if this age limit could be raised from 3 to 6 months accompanied by the removal of the head and all internal organs from the chest and abdominal cavities[1]. The Commission’s mandate asked if there would be an additional risk from consuming young sheep and goats from TSE affected flocks aged 6 months (with all internal organs from the chest and abdominal cavities removed) compared to the present 3 months of age (with just the spleen and ileum removed).

EFSA’s BIOHAZ Panel concluded that it was not possible to compare the two scenarios, as there are not sufficient data available on the amount of infectious tissues that would still be present in the carcasses of affected sheep and goats at 3 months and 6 months of age. The Panel said that there were some indications that there would be an increase in the level of scrapie infectivity in the lymph nodes of sheep and goats between the age of 3 and 6 months. Some lymph nodes will remain on the carcasses at 6 months.

The Panel also said that the removal of the head and internal organs from the chest and abdominal cavities would result in incomplete removal of the infectivity load of both 3 and 6 month old animals.

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