Brussels, 28 October 2004
Following the findings by a research group in France that they suspect the presence of a TSE infection in a goat’s brain which tests cannot distinguish from BSE, the European Commission has submitted data received from the French authorities to the Community Reference Laboratory (CRL) for TSEs based in Weybridge, England, for an evaluation by an expert panel. TSEs are transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, namely BSE affecting cattle, and scrapie affecting goats and sheep. The expert panel will evaluate, over the next two weeks or so, the scientific evidence to see if it indicates the presence of BSE in the goat. This isolated incident does not present a risk to public health as the goat and its herd did not enter the food and feed chain.
BSE has never been found under natural circumstances in ruminants other than cattle. Its presence in goats or other ruminants has been viewed as theoretically possible but has never been detected. Nevertheless, for many years safety measures have been applied in respect of all farmed ruminants (cattle, goats, sheep) to offer maximum public health protection. These safety measures include the prohibition on feeding animal proteins in the form of meat-and-bone meal, the removal of specified risk materials (ie. 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 surveillance/monitoring programme in all Member States.
This goat was detected as part of the EU wide surveillance programme designed to detect suspicious TSE strains in small ruminants. Over 140,000 goats have been tested since April 2002.
Arising from this EU testing programme, a healthy goat slaughtered in 2002 in France was tested at random for TSEs. Based on the initial positive finding of a TSE which differed from the normal scrapie strains, further scientific study has been carried out on the suspect brain (the necessary assays take two years) leading to the conclusion by French experts that they believe the brain could be BSE-positive. If confirmed, this would be the first ever such finding in a goat. This goat was the only animal in the flock affected. All goats in the flock, including the affected one, were destroyed and tests on all 300 adults in the flock were negative for all TSEs. Thus, arising from the application of EU law, no product from this herd reached the human/animal food chain, thereby avoiding any risk to public health.
An expert panel co-ordinated by the Community Reference Laboratory (CRL) for TSEs in Weybridge will now examine the data from the research project and will advise the Commission on the significance of the findings and the need for any further work.
The Commission is also sending the French research data to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for its consideration. Once the CRL experts report, this will also be sent to EFSA. Based on the outcome of the CRL analysis, the Commission will ask EFSA for any necessary updates in its scientific risk assessment in respect of goats.
Pending receipt of the CRL’s expert opinion and any follow-up EFSA opinion, the Commission is not immediately proposing any further risk management measures beyond the extensive legislation already in force.
The Commission, as well as keeping in close contact with the French authorities, is keeping the medical and veterinary authorities of the Member States updated.