The agency said Thursday that further research into hygienic production of the product for possible legalization had commenced two months ahead of schedule on 1 February. A decision on whether to allow processors in the country to cater for this potentially lucrative new ethnic market is now expected by next April. This would also allow the FSA to bolster its case before the European Commission if it decides to push for legalisation of the meat. Smokies are considered a delicacy among many of those with African or Asian heritage. Health concerns However, a particular concern regarding their manufacture has been the issue of medicines used on the live sheep that may still present in the creatures skin, which may present a potential health risk to consumers. Opinion on their manufacture has therefore remained uncertain in the country, and the FSA decided to continue outlawing the product despite its own investigation last year that smokies could be made hygienically under controlled plant procedures. Data gathered from the new study will help the FSA to assess the effectiveness of veterinary medicine withdrawal periods for skin-on sheep, the regulator stated. The set withdrawal periods would ensure that any medicine residues are below a 'safe' limit to protect the consumer, the FSA stated. Previous research commissioned by the FSA in 2005 concluded that insufficient data existed for certain medicines to assess the safety of the end skin-on meat product. The new study will attempt to provide fuller data as required. Ongoing research "The new research will go some way to help define the requirements for possible future production and consumption in the UK, should the meat be legalised," the FSA stated. Current withdrawal periods could ensure residues are below a 'safe' limit, but the existing calculations may have been made based on skinned, and therefore, legal sheep, the previous research stated. The study will focus on the production of sheep feet with the skin-on, that have been scalded and depilated. Sheep feet cooked in this way are legally available for human consumption in the UK. The research also builds on existing research commissioned by the FSA in 2003 into 'skin-on' sheep carcasses, and which found that the meat could be produced safely and hygienically under controlled conditions. smokie production is banned in the EU. The FSA said it was still too soon to say when it would be in a position to approach the Commission to suggest a change in the current law.