Update on skin-on sheep meat (smokies)

New research into the presence of medicine residues in the skin of sheep has been proposed by the Food Standards Agency.

The study will focus on medicines used to control external parasites and flies, which can concentrate in sheep skin and skin-fat. Sheep feet with the skin-on, that have been scalded and
depilated, are legally available for human consumption – and these will be used as the testing product in the new study.

This work also builds on existing research commissioned by the FSA in 2003 into ‘skin-on’ sheep carcasses also known as ‘smokies’. Smokies are considered to be a delicacy among many African and
Asian groups, but the production of this type of meat is currently not allowed in the European Union. The 2003 research found that skin on sheep meat could be produced safely and hygienically
under controlled conditions.

Data gathered from the new study will help to assess the effectiveness of veterinary medicine withdrawal periods for skin-on sheep. Withdrawal periods ensure that any medicine residues are
below a ‘safe’ limit to protect the consumer. Previous research commissioned by the Agency in 2005 concluded that insufficient data existed to assess skin-on meat for certain medicines. The new
study will look to address these gaps in current information.

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.

It’s too soon to speculate when the Agency will be in a position to approach the EC to suggest a change in the current law. In the short term there is no prospect of the law being changed to
allow approved slaughterhouses to produce skin-on sheep. Consequently, the production of smokies in the UK remains unlawful. The FSA will continue to work with local authorities to ensure that
the law is enforced.

The FSA is calling for applications to conduct this study and a research requirement was published on 20 September 2007. The study is likely to start in April 2008 and may take 12-18 months to
complete.

Background details
Smokies are produced by burning the fleece off sheep carcases (often with a blowtorch), which imparts a strong smoked flavour to the meat. The production of smokies for sale for human
consumption is illegal because the skin is still attached to the meat and the animals are slaughtered in unlicensed premises without official supervision. This is contrary to EU law and the
UK’s meat hygiene regulations.
Smokies may pose a significant risk to public health for a number of reasons:

● the animals are slaughtered in unlicensed premises (often disused farm buildings) without TSE controls being applied under the supervision of the
Meat Hygiene Service. TSE controls include the removal of specified risk material ? the parts of the animal most likely to carry TSE infectivity

● the unsanitary and unhygienic conditions in which animals are normally slaughtered may cause contamination by faecal material resulting in the
presence of harmful bacteria such as E coli and salmonella

● There are concerns about potential residues from veterinary medicines in the skin of the sheep carcases

There are also concerns about animal welfare because of the conditions under which the animals may be slaughtered.

One way of combating the current illegal trade in smokies would be to make their production legal in approved slaughterhouses, and thus enable consumers and the farming community to benefit
from the apparent demand for the product.

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