EFSA advises on health risks of consuming reptile meat

EFSA’s Panel on biological hazards (BIOHAZ) has just issued scientific advice on the public health risks of consuming reptile meat from farmed reptiles. Trade in reptile meat is not harmonised by Community legislation and its import is prohibited in some Member States while others permit it under certain conditions. The European Commission requested EFSA’s scientific advice to support its examination of the need for Community-wide legislation in this field.

The scientific opinion deals with disease agents such as viruses, bacteria and parasites. It also includes input from EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the food chain (CONTAM) on chemical contaminants such as heavy metals, hormones and veterinary medicines that might pose a health concern. It mainly focuses on crocodiles, pond terrapins and lizards, but other species including snakes are also considered.

Salmonella bacteria are highlighted as a potential health risk, given the high contamination rate in fresh and frozen crocodilian meat. Certain parasites are transmitted to humans through consumption of contaminated snake meat but other reptiles such as crocodiles, pond terrapins and lizards have not been implicated with their transmission to humans through their meat consumption. The application of food safety control systems such as good hygiene and manufacturing practices and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) both at farm and slaughterhouse level helps to control such hazards. At present there is no evidence that viruses can be transmitted to humans through consumption of reptile meat and no indication that natural TSEs occur in farmed reptiles. There is a lack of data on chemical contaminants in reptile meat and the CONTAM Panel recommended that such data be collected while EU standards for animal feed should also be applied to feed for reptiles raised to produce meat if imported into the EU.