With regards to possible health risks associated with the consumption of goat milk and milk-derived products, EFSA experts agreed that: "…in light of current scientific knowledge and irrespective of their geographical origin, milk and milk derivatives (eg lactoferrin, lactose) from small ruminants are unlikely to present any risk of TSE contamination provided that milk is sourced from clinically healthy animals."
The case, identified as a TSE in a normal slaughter goat in the course of active surveillance in 2002, was confirmed by subsequent molecular phenotyping and a two-year bio-assay as indistinguishable from a BSE infection. EFSA's scientific panel on biological hazards (BIOHAZ) has now outlined the current state of knowledge and affairs concerning the assessment of BSE-related risks with respect to the consumption of goat meat and goat meat products.
The EFSA's initial assessment is good news for goat milk producers, which remains a growing sector of food production. European goat breeding is strongly milk production-oriented; with 3 per cent of the world goat population, it produces 17 per cent of global goat milk.
Greece, Spain and France produce over 80 per cent of the milk in Europe. Extensive production and smaller flocks are decreasing, while specialised milk farms delivering milk direct to industry are increasing.
But with regards to the provision of scientific advice related to the safety of goat meat and goat meat products, and following a feasibility study, the BIOHAZ Panel confirmed that significant gaps exist in the information required to carry out a quantitative risk assessment with regards to BSE/TSE.
In particular, the panel highlighted the absence of information regarding consumption of goat meat and goat meat products and other data required to assess exposure, particularly the true prevalence of BSE infection in goats under natural conditions and the distribution of infectivity in goat tissues.
From the epidemiological data available today, no link is indicated between goat meat and meat product consumption and variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD). However, the BIOHAZ Panel recognised the lack of knowledge with respect to the incubation period of vCJD and exposure levels of the human population, which limits confidence in this observation.
The BIOHAZ panel has therefore concluded that more information is needed to assess the significance of the single French case. A quantitative risk assessment concerning BSE-related risks associated with the consumption of goat meat and goat meat product will therefore be carried out, and this is expected to be completed by July 2005 if pertinent data will become available.