Food Law News - UK - 2003

FSA Press Release (2003/0332), 24 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 a split sheep carcass 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 carcass was health-marked at the Coast and County Meat Supply slaughterhouse in Gateshead.

The split sheep carcass containing spinal cord was found on February 17 during a routine MHS inspection at Smithfield Market, London. The carcass was 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 fourth SRM breach in British sheep meat since January 2001. The parts of sheep currently classified as SRM under European Union (EU) legislation are: all sheep - spleen; and sheep over 12 months of age (ie with one or more permanent incisors) - 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. Its removal would reduce the possible risk by about a third if BSE were present in sheep. By law, SRM must be removed immediately after slaughter, stained and disposed of safely.

The Food Standards Agency has notified the European Commission of the SRM breach.

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