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I spotted an article on BBC news (repeated on several other news aggregators) about a farmer who had had his lambs stolen.

There was a very specific warning given:

PSNI Chief Inspector Graham Dodds has warned abattoirs to be careful about accepting lambs in the coming week.

"The farmer who owned these lambs has informed us that they would not be ready to enter the food chain for the next six weeks and that their meat would be poisonous to humans if eaten," he said.

Is this true? Could eating very young lamb prove dangerous (even fatal) to humans?

If not, then why are these specific lambs so special?

  • Further skeptics questions, perhaps shading more to English Language and Usage: are these lambs really "poisonous"? Is a lamb containing one atom of arsenic "poisonous"? In which case are any lambs "non-poisonous"? What's the actual degree of harm to be expected from eating them? – Steve Jessop Aug 24 '15 at 17:48
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    @SteveJessop, it is generally understood poisonous, in common usage, means that exposure to something at normal or expected levels causes illness or death. As in Simon's answer Maximum Residue Limits set by the government are thought to be the maximum exposure which is "safe" (in other words extremely unlikely to cause harm at normal consumption levels) – Sam I Am Aug 24 '15 at 19:15
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    I don't think the farmer's assertion that these lambs are poisonous infers that all lambs are poisonous. You have simply misunderstood. – Jodrell Aug 25 '15 at 7:35
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    Is there a chance tat the farmer was simply trying to spread misinformation (anything from careful mis-wording to outright lie) deliberately to complicate the thief's intent and simplify recovering his property? – user5341 Sep 1 '15 at 15:28
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This Belfast Telegraph article explains it a little bit better. The lambs could have been vaccinated recently. The UFU President is also quoted saying there is little risk to the public. Hope that clears things up.

Stringent EU regulations mean that animals which have been vaccinated or treated with antibiotics have to be kept out of the food chain for six weeks. It is thought that the stolen lambs may have recently been vaccinated.

Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) President Ian Marshall stressed that the incident would cause little risk to consumers and therefore should not be of concern to the public. He said: "Unfortunately, the theft of livestock is something we see far too often and it can be very stressful for the farmer involved. We are concerned that the rural crime statistics are still alarming in this part of the world and it's a level that we do not seem to be getting on top of.

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    Regarding the vaccination claim, 'Vaccines authorised by the EMA for use in food animals usually have a zero day withdrawal time, meaning that an animal can be slaughtered and safely eaten immediately after vaccination.'-eufic.org/article/en/artid/…, so does this mean that the animals can be eaten immediately after vaccination and consumption need not be put on hold for six weeks? – pericles316 Aug 25 '15 at 5:17
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In the absence of any further information, it seems likely that these lambs have recently been given some vaccines or other drugs.

As a result, they will not be fit for human consumption until the levels of those drugs have fallen to within acceptable levels.

See the section headed "Withdrawal periods for drugs" in Sheep Medicines (UK source)

Withdrawal periods for drugs (Food producing animals)

The Animals, Meat and Meat Products (Examination for Residues and Maximum Residue Limits) Regulations 1997 control residues of animal medicines in food producing animals. Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) are set which aim to avoid toxicity in man and technical problems for the food producing industries. Under EU legislation the MRL is defined as:

Maximum concentration of residue resulting from administration of an animal medicine which is legally permitted in the Community or recognised as acceptable in or on a food.

Withdrawal periods for meat are listed on the data sheet accompanying the drug and must be strictly observed. Withdrawal periods are defined as:

The time between the last dose given to the animal and the time when the level of residues in the tissues (muscle, liver, kidney, skin/fat) or products (milk, eggs, honey) is lower than or equal to the MRL.

Withdrawal periods are given for time after administration to slaughter (meat production). Where a withdrawal period is not given for a species a minimum of the following "standard" withdrawal periods should be adopted; 28 days for meat. Additionally, some organic food schemes require the doubling or tripling of data sheet and standard withdrawal periods.

The text of the law cited, The Animals and Animal Products (Examination for Residues and Maximum Residue Limits) Regulations 1997, is available online.

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    This kind of thing was a concern when horses not intended for human consumption were found in meat fairly recently. – Andrew Grimm Aug 24 '15 at 2:34
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No, in general young lamb isn't poisonous.

Lambs are sometimes slaughtered very young, earlier than six weeks of age. If young lamb in general was dangerous than that meat wouldn't be fit for consumption.

The Official Journal of the International Goat Association published a paper Effects of age and season of slaughter on meat production of light lambs: Carcass characteristics and meat quality of Leccese breed

The effects of the slaughter season (winter and spring) and the age at slaughter (45 and 60 days) on the carcass characteristics and physico-chemical quality of meat were investigated on 40 Leccese lambs.

The increase of the lambs’ slaughter age from 45 to 60 days resulted in an improvement in live weight, some commercial cuts (shoulder and loin), the majority of the carcass measurements, adiposity and conformation of shoulder and leg and the muscle/fat ratio. Intramuscular collagen properties were also affected by slaughter age.

The journal Small Ruminant Research did a similar study Effect of age at slaughter on carcass traits, fatty acid composition and lipid oxidation of Apulian lambs

Twenty Apulian ram lambs were used to study the effect of the age at slaughter (45 and 90 days) on carcass traits, fatty acid composition and lipid oxidation. Carcasses were dissected in commercial cuts and stored frozen

Whether these particular young lambs are actually poisonous or not - we aren't given enough information to make that conclusion. The farmer somewhat implied age was the factor but either he is misinformed or there was another reason for why the lambs needed to age that we weren't given. See Simon B's great answer for a possible reason why these particular lambs may need to age before being fit for human consumption.

  • Hmm. This answers the general question of whether lambs are poisonous. It doesn't, however explain the reason why these lambs are poisonous, which was the genesis of the question. – Richard Aug 23 '15 at 20:39
  • Ah, I understand your question now! I read the claim wrong. I will try to revise my answer in a little while, if I can. – Sam I Am Aug 23 '15 at 21:08
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    @Richard The answer is perfectly fine for the question as stated. The question is clearly about lamb in general, and the answer gives a published source suggesting that lamb slaughtered at 45 to 60 days of age is fit for human consumption. Maybe you meant to ask a different question? – nitro2k01 Aug 24 '15 at 0:04
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    "I do not like 45 day old lamb. I do not like it, @SamIAm" – Pharap Aug 25 '15 at 2:57

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