Food Law News - UK - 2003

FSA Press Release 2003/0315, 12 February 2003

BSE - Spinal cord found in British sheep carcass

The Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) has launched an inquiry following the finding of spinal cord in two sheep carcasses that had been health-marked as fit for human consumption.

The MHS is investigating the role of its inspectors in this specified risk material (SRM) failure and why the sheep carcasses were health-marked at the Hopkins slaughterhouse in Creech St Michael, near Taunton, Somerset.

The two split ewe carcasses containing spinal cord were found on February 5 during a routine MHS inspection at Smithfield Market, London. The carcasses were removed from the food chain and disposed of. The rest of the consignment at Smithfield, which was not responsible for the problem, was checked and found to be free of SRM.

This is the second SRM breach in British sheep meat since January 2001.

The parts of sheep currently classified as specified risk material (SRM) under European Union (EU) legislation are: all sheep - spleen; and sheep over 12 months of age (ie with one permanent incisor) - the skull (including brain and eyes), spinal cord and tonsils.

SRM is removed from sheep carcasses in the UK and throughout the EU on a precautionary basis. BSE has not been found to occur naturally in sheep. But under EU legislation spinal cord is classified as SRM in sheep because if BSE was ever found to be present in sheep, it would be one of the parts of the animal that would be most likely to contain BSE.

By law, SRM must be removed immediately after slaughter, stained and disposed of safely. Its removal would reduce the possible risk by about a third if BSE were present in sheep.

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