Specified Risk Material - Requirements for Diagnostic Laboratories

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Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, is spread when cattle consume feed products contaminated with certain proteins from infected animals.

In infected cattle, BSE concentrates in certain tissues, collectively known as specified risk material (SRM). For public health protection, these tissues are removed from all cattle slaughtered for human consumption. To prevent BSE spread among cattle, the Government of Canada banned most proteins, including SRM, from cattle feed in 1997.

On July 12, 2007, enhanced animal health safeguards came into effect to help eliminate BSE from Canada. SRM must be handled, transported and disposed of under a permit issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). This permit control system is intended to ensure that SRM is monitored and does not enter the animal feed system.

What are SRM?

SRM are tissues known to concentrate BSE prion in infected animals. They are defined as follows:

  • In cattle aged 30 months or older, SRM consist in the skull, brain, trigeminal ganglia (nerves attached to the brain), eyes, tonsils, spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia (nerves attached to the spinal cord); and
  • In cattle of all ages, SRM consist in the distal ileum (portion of the small intestine).

N.B.: any solid or liquid laboratory materials that contain or may contain BSE prion are considered SRM.

Requirements for laboratories

Cattle carcasses containing SRM or samples of SRM tissues sent to any Level 2 or higher laboratory (as classified by the Public Health Agency of Canada's Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines) in Canada are exempt from CFIA permitting requirements. Similarly, SRM that is sent from the laboratory to another laboratory may be transported without staining or a permit.

Any SRM waste that leaves the laboratory for disposal must be properly identified in accordance with a CFIA issued permit to Remove and Transport SRM. This applies to cattle carcasses containing SRM and samples of SRM tissues.

Level 2 or higher laboratories are exempt from a permit requirement if they choose to perform on-site destruction and disposal of SRM. If the disposal is off-site the receiving site must have a valid CFIA-issued permit to destroy or confine the SRM. The person who performs the transportation must hold a valid CFIA-issued permit to Remove and Transport SRM.

Permits are not required for the transportation and off-site disposal of waste not containing SRM (SRM free); in this case the laboratory must have an effectively implemented segregation plan.

The compliance with the SRM control measures provided herein does not exempt stakeholders to comply with the Canadian Biosafety Standards, 2nd edition published by the Public Health Agency of Canada nor with any Federal, Provincial, Territorial or Municipal regulations that may be applicable.

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