Commission Press Release (IP/05/105), 28 January 2005
A suspected case of BSE in a goat slaughtered in France in 2002 has been confirmed today by a panel of European scientists (http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/food/biosafety/bse/crl_statement_tse_goats_28-01-05_en.pdf).
The European Commission proposes to step up testing to determine if this is an isolated incident. Although this is the first time that BSE has been found in a goat under natural conditions, precautionary measures to protect consumers from this eventuality have been applied in the EU for several years. The level of TSE infection in goats seems however to be extremely low and any possible risk to consumers is minimal. The European Commission asked the French authorities to submit their preliminary findings to the Community Reference Laboratory (CRL) for TSEs based in Weybridge , UK (see IP/04/1324). TSEs are transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, namely BSE affecting cattle and scrapie affecting goats and sheep.
Markos Kyprianou, EU Commissioner responsible for Health and Consumer Protection, said “I want to reassure consumers that existing safety measures in the EU offer a very high level of protection. This case was discovered thanks to the EU testing system in place in France . The testing programme has shown us that there is a very low incidence rate of TSEs in goats and allowed us to detect suspect animals so that they can be taken out of the food chain, as was done with this goat and its entire herd. I am proposing to extend testing further to determine whether this is an isolated incident.”
Existing safety measures
For many years, safety measures have been applied to all farmed ruminants (cattle, goats, sheep) to offer maximum public health protection in case BSE in goats was ever confirmed. These safety measures include the ban on feeding animal proteins in the form of meat-and-bone meal (MBM), the removal of specified risk materials (i.e. the removal of tissues such as brain, spinal cord, part of the intestines) from the food and feed chain, the slaughtering of herds affected by scrapie (a disease of goats and sheep similar to BSE but not infectious for humans), and a TSE monitoring and testing programme in all Member States. Over 140,000 goats have been tested since April 2002, including random testing of healthy animals, sick animals and those that die on the farm.
Extension of testing regime
Following this confirmation, the Commission is proposing increased testing for BSE among goats for at least 6 months (200 000 tests of healthy goats in the EU) to determine if this is an isolated incident. The extent of the monitoring programme will be based on the goat population in each Member State and will focus primarily on Member States where BSE is present in the cattle population. All confirmed TSE cases will be subjected to a three-step testing scheme, already in use, which will make it possible to differentiate between scrapie and BSE. These additional measures will be submitted for Member States approval at the next meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health scheduled on 2-3 February 2005..
Does this BSE case indicate a widespread problem?
The conditions that existed when the affected goat was born in 2000 no longer exist and available evidence would suggest that even if the infection still exists in goats, the level would be extremely low. The feeding of meat-and-bone meal (MBM) to ruminants is generally considered to be the transmission route of BSE. In January 2001 the existing ban on feeding MBM to all ruminants was extended to a total ban on feeding MBM to all farmed animals. Goats in the EU generally only live for a few years, which means that the majority of goats in the EU today were born after the total feed ban was put in place.
Are goat milk, cheese and meat safe?
The European Food Safety Authority has advised that based on current scientific knowledge, goat milk and derived products are unlikely to present any risk of TSE contamination if the milk comes from healthy animals: http://www.efsa.eu.int/science/biohaz/biohaz_documents/709/bdoc_statement_goatsmilk_en1.pdf
Currently, as a precautionary measure and following scientific advice, milk and meat from goats which are affected by TSE cannot be used. These rules were in place before the case of BSE in a goat was discovered. As for cattle and sheep, specified risk materials (the tissues most likely to carry infectivity if the disease is present) are also removed from all goats even if there is no infection detected. While it is not possible to say that there is absolutely no risk, any potential risk will be mitigated by the safety measures put in place.
In light of the above, the European Commission advises no change in current consumption of goat milk, cheese and meat. The European Commission has asked EFSA to carry out a quantitative risk assessment for goat meat and goat meat products, which is expected to be ready by July 2005.
Following the findings by a research group in France of a suspected BSE infection in a goat, the European Commission immediately made the findings public on 28 October 2004 (see IP/04/1324). The supporting data were submitted on 5 November, as foreseen by the EU procedure, by the French authorities to the Community Reference Laboratory (CRL) for TSEs based in Weybridge (UK), for an evaluation by an expert panel. The CRL expert panel reported their findings today (http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/food/biosafety/bse/crl_statement_tse_goats_28-01-05_en.pdf).
The infected goat was born in March 2000 and slaughtered in France in October 2002. The results are only now becoming available as the series of confirmatory tests included testing on mice (a so-called “mouse bioassay”), which takes two years to complete.
The goat and its herd were disposed in accordance with EU rules and did not enter either the food or feed chain, and therefore do not represent a risk to public health. This goat was detected as part of the EU wide surveillance programme designed to detect suspicious TSE strains in small ruminants, and was the only one in its herd of 300 goats to develop BSE. Over 140,000 goats have been tested across Europe since April 2002.