Animal disease

Cattle, sheep and goats are susceptible to a group of brain diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).

Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies

The best known of these diseases is bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle – also known as BSE or mad cow disease.

The European TSE Regulation 999/2001 (as amended) sets out the requirements for TSE monitoring, animal feeding and the removal of specified risk material. The Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (Scotland) Regulations 2010 provide for the execution and enforcement of the EU TSE legislation.

The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) TSE risk assessment subgroup provides Food Standards Scotland (FSS) and other government departments in the UK with independent, expert advice on TSEs.

BSE Risk Status

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) classifies the BSE risk status of the cattle population of a country on the basis of a risk assessment and other criteria.

The three risk categories are:

  • negligible BSE risk
  • controlled BSE risk
  • undetermined BSE risk.

Further information on these categories can be found on the OIE website.

Since record keeping began in 1988, the epidemic in the UK has been in decline for many years - with no cases reported in 2016. The UK currently has controlled risk BSE and is ineligible to apply for negligible BSE risk until 2020. However, as a region of a Member State, Scotland currently fulfils the OIE’s eligibility criteria and submitted an application for negligible BSE risk to the OIE which will be subject to a vote at the OIE World Assembly of Delegates at the 85th General Session in May 2017.

Control measures in place

There are strict controls in place in Scotland to protect people from BSE. FSS has inspection staff in all slaughterhouses and cutting plants to monitor compliance with the requirements of the European and domestic legislation. Every carcase is subject to a final inspection before being health marked as fit for human consumption.

The key food safety control is the removal of specified risk material (SRM). However, there are also controls on animal feed and a requirement to test certain categories of animal for BSE. In addition to these controls, cattle with BSE or suspected of having BSE, and the offspring and cohorts of BSE cases, are removed from the food chain.

Although no sheep in Scotland’s flock have been found to have BSE, there are a number of precautionary safety measures in place, since it has been shown under laboratory conditions that sheep can be infected with BSE. FSS supports research into TSEs in animal species used for food.

Specified Risk Material (SRM)

Specified risk material (SRM) is tissues of cattle, sheep and goats such as the brain, spinal cord, tonsils and certain bovine intestines that are most likely to carry BSE prion proteins which have been implicated in variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans. These potentially infective materials are banned from the human food chain under European TSE Regulations and must be removed in either a slaughterhouse or cutting plant.

SRM controls are agreed at EU level and are kept under constant review to ensure they reflect the latest scientific evidence. For example, following a favourable opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the definition of bovine SRM was amended to allow certain parts of bovine intestines from cattle of all ages back into the human food chain. These changes applied from May 2015.

SRM is subject to the BSE status of the country – Further information on material defined as SRM can be found at Article 11.5.14. of Chapter 11.5. on the OIE website.

Trichinella

Trichinella spiralis is a small worm, and its larvae can cause a disease called Trichinosis, which affects many species – including humans. People can become infected by eating raw, undercooked or processed meat from pigs, wild boar, horses or game containing Trichinella spiralis.

Infection can cause symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and malaise. This can progress to fever, and in severe cases can affect the vital organs, possibly leading to meningitis, pneumonia or even death.

To prevent infected meat from pigs and other relevant species entering the human food chain, routine testing is mandatory within EU member states.

Testing

EU Regulation 2015/1375 lays down specific rules on official controls for Trichinella in meat and sets out requirements on testing for Trichinella, and how the tests should be carried out.

All pigs not from controlled housing conditions must be tested for Trichinella. This reflects the greater risk of infection for pigs that spend time outdoors. However, there is a useful degree of flexibility in the definition of controlled housing provided that the food business operator can prove that this does not pose a danger for introducing Trichinella in the holding.

Read our guidance for pig keepers.

The food chain information accompanying the animals from the farm to the slaughterhouse will need to capture whether the pigs come from a controlled or non-controlled housing holding. The nature of the holding will then determine the testing requirements at the slaughterhouse.

For further information on applying as a tester, see our approvals page.

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