Specified Risk Materials Removal
In Ontario Meat Plants

What are Specified Risk Materials?

Specified risk materials (SRM) are tissues that, in infected cattle, typically contain the agent that causes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The infective agent is concentrated in tissues such as the brain and spinal cord and is not distributed throughout the whole animal. The majority of the animal, including muscle meat - from which steaks and other consumer products are cut - does not contain BSE infectivity and therefore is not a health concern.

Why are Specified Risk Materials a concern?

These are the materials that are known to transmit the disease from infected cows. Cattle tissues identified as specified risk materials are not generally consumed as part of normal North American diets. If SRMs are not removed before processing, they could be included unintentionally in meat products destined for human consumption. To date, only one animal has been found to be infected with BSE out of more than three million cows processed in Canada each year. Taking action to remove SRMs from cattle at slaughter is a way to further enhance the safety of the food supply in Canada.

How is Canada addressing Specified Risk Materials?

As of July 24, 2003, the Government of Canada amended the Food and Drug Regulations and the Health of Animals Regulations to prevent SRM from entering the human food supply. This follows a July 18th announcement by Health Minister Anne McLellan and Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lyle Vanclief of the additional measures the federal government is taking to enhance BSE controls.

These regulations establish a definition for SRM and prohibit the sale or import for sale of food products containing SRM under the Food and Drug Regulations from countries that are not BSE-free. On July 12, 2007 enhanced regulations were introduced to ban SRM from animal feed, pet food, and fertilizer. The amendments to the Health of Animals Regulations require the separation of SRM from animal feed, pet food and fertilizer that was removed from beef carcasses. It also prohibits the export and use of SRM in food for human consumption. SRM are defined as the skull, brain, trigeminal ganglia (nerves attached to the brain), eyes, tonsils, spinal cord, dorsal root ganglia in the vertebral column (nerves attached to the spinal cord) of cattle aged 30 months or older (scientific research has shown that these tissues, in cattle younger than 30 months, do not contain the infective agent); and the distal ileum (portion of the small intestine) of cattle of all ages.

What is Ontario doing to implement the changes?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care have worked together to implement a policy in which provincially licensed plant operators must:

  • identify cattle over 30 months of age or treat all cattle as greater than 30 months of age.
  • remove the skull including the brain, trigeminal ganglia and eyes, the tonsils, the spinal cord and the vertebral column including the dorsal root ganglia from carcasses of animals over 30 months of age;
  • remove the ileo-cecal junction and at least 200 cm of the distal ileum portion of the small intestine proximal to the ileo-cecal junction of cattle of all ages or remove the entire small intestine from cattle of all ages; and
  • ensure these materials, referred to as SRM, are treated as inedible product, and properly identified and disposed of.
  • ensure bovines who die at plants are handled according to regulatory requirements

What kinds of controls are in place to make sure SRMs are being removed properly?

The operator is responsible for the development, implementation, and maintenance of documented control programs that address all the components of the SRM removal policy including age determination and carcass identification.

The operator must monitor the complete removal of all SRM. The operator and all staff must have demonstrable knowledge of the establishment's SRM control programs and be able to demonstrate with accurate records that the SRM controls they have put in place, have been implemented in practice, resulting in full compliance with the regulations and policy requirements.

Meat inspectors verify the accuracy of the operator's determination of the age of carcasses under 30 months. They must thoroughly check each side of every carcass of bovine greater than 30 months of age to visually monitor that the complete spinal cord has been removed before the carcass is marked with the meat inspection legend.

The inspectors will regularly review the effectiveness of the operator's program for ensuring that the vertebral column has been removed from all carcasses of animals greater than 30 months of age.

At any time, inspectors will retain any carcass showing incompletely removed SRM or contamination from SRM for immediate re-work by the operator.

Inspection staff must be able to demonstrate their thorough familiarity with the SRM control programs established by the operator and to verify full compliance with relevant regulations and this policy.

Compliance with these SRM removal procedures will be part of the comprehensive audits conducted in provincial meat plants.

SRM controls are monitored by OMAFRA inspectors, entered in the FSDSS database and shared quarterly with the CFIA

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For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
Local: (519) 826-4047
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca