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2.11.2020

New report published on the risk of STEC contamination in wild venison

A male deer with antlers eating grass from the ground, standing under trees.

A successful two-year study led by Moredun scientists with partners from Edinburgh University and Food Standards Scotland (FSS), together with incredible support from the deer industry, has resulted in the publication of a report which addresses knowledge gaps and leads to a better understanding of the risk of STEC (Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli) contamination of wild venison.

The full report can be found on the FSS website.

The study was based on three core objectives:

  • Map the venison industry in Scotland
  • Assess STEC prevalence in wild deer faeces in Scotland
  • Review cross-contamination risks in the slaughter and processing stages of wild deer from the field to larder.

Although the prevalence of STEC O157 in wild deer was found to be low, the strains discovered are associated with the most severe forms of human disease. Therefore, adherence to strict hygiene practices from cull to final product are strongly recommended within the report.

The venison industry continues to take a cooperative and responsible approach to STEC O157 when found, working to better understand the risks in the sector and how to mitigate them in the interest of public health protection.

Dr Tom McNeilly, Head of Disease Control at the Moredun Research Institute and project lead, said:

“This project has been a fantastic collaboration between research scientists, government and the deer industry. It has provided important information on STEC strains circulating in Scottish wild deer and the risk they pose to human health. Furthermore, this collaboration provides a blue-print for how academics, government agencies and industry can work together effectively to address key public health issues. I would like to express my thanks to all those involved.”

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a group of bacteria commonly found in the gut of humans and other warm-blooded animals. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, some, like STEC, can cause illness in humans. Humans can become ill from STEC by eating contaminated foods, drinking contaminated water, by direct contact with animals and their environment, or by spreading the infection from person to person. The risk analysis also identified a number of factors associated with increased chance of contamination, such as higher environmental temperatures and longer distances from cull sites to Approved Game Handling Establishments (AGHE).

Due to increasing demand for venison, the report also predicts a likely increase in imports of venison into the UK in the future. The report was commissioned following an outbreak of STEC O157 in venison products in 2015. Funding for the report was jointly provided by Food Standards Scotland and the Scottish Government’s RESAS Contract Research Fund, along with industry in-kind contributions.

Dr Marianne James, Head of Risk Assessment at Food Standards Scotland, said:

“Our STEC in venison report has been a highly successful collaboration between government, industry and academia, in order to gain a clearer understanding of the risks in the venison sector. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the industry for their funding contribution which has been instrumental in conducting all of the sampling and helping steer the project work. “The report’s findings will be taken forward and are being used by FSS and the venison industry to update best practice guides.”

The work for this report was awarded to The Moredun Research Institute, with project partners including the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (R(D)SVS), University of Edinburgh; The Roslin Institute (RI), University of Edinburgh; The Scottish E. coli O157/STEC Reference Laboratory (SERL); Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG); Scottish Venison Association (SVA); Lowland Deer Network Scotland (LDNS); Scottish Quality Wild Venison (SQWV); and British Deer Society (BDS).