Sheep breeders should make the most of the chance this summer’s consultation on the future of the National Scrapie Plan offers to ensure they have a scheme which fits their needs in future, says NSA chief executive Peter Morris.

Speaking at an NSP consultation meeting in Kingswood, Surrey, on Monday night, Mr Morris said the industry had a prime opportunity to take ownership of the scheme and develop it into something which would benefit all breeders. “What we have now is the chance to build on the NSP Ram Genotyping Scheme and ensure it offers what the industry needs.

“Incorporating a number of the emerging gene markers into the testing programme would enable breeders much more opportunity from testing. What I envisage is a blood sample being taken and the breeder choosing which tests they’d like done from a menu of options, such as muscle depth, footrot resistance and scrapie susceptibility.”

It may be that scrapie susceptibility was the least favoured option and breeders chose the other tests. But the main thing was that scrapie genotyping needed to be offered, he added.

And while some breed societies, particularly those which believed scrapie was not an issue for them, may feel they were better off ceasing genotyping, Mr Morris suggested they were the breeds with most to gain from continuing. “Some breed societies, such as the Scottish Blackface, feel breeding for scrapie resistance has compromised a number of commercial traits.

Consultation

DEFRA’s consultation on the future of the Ram Genotyping Scheme is due to be launched in July and will run for 12 weeks. A decision on government’s future involvement is likely to be made public early next year.

“This may or may not be true, but it will benefit these breeds to continue genotyping, as they will be able to indentify higher resistance sheep which they may wish not to breed from. The knowledge gained can be used in more than one way.”

However, Kay Boulton of MLC said there was no evidence to back up these suggestions. “Preliminary results from extensive research suggests breeding for scrapie resistance has little or no impact on a number of commercial traits, most importantly muscle depth, growth from birth to slaughter and reasons for death or disposal from a flock.”

Further results from this research would be available at the end of this year, she said.

Highlighting the massive strides made by the NSP in recent years, NSP vet adviser Mike Dawson said the number of scrapie cases had fallen from 1 in 1000 in 2001 to 1 in 5000 in 2006, a direct result of breeding from resistance.

Pat Brophy, TSE policy adviser with DEFRA, warned breeders there would be little government funding available for any future scheme. He also reassured them that failing to genotype sheep would not be a barrier to exports into the EU. “Breeding for scrapie resistance is discretionary in member states and sheep with non-resistance genotypes can be moved through the EU just as easily as those with resistance, provided they meet all other export criteria. But ARR/ARR sheep can be moved more easily, as they do not need to come from scrapie-monitored flocks.”

jonathan.long@rbi.co.uk

Government cash for the NSP is likely to be minimal. But breeders should take ownership of any future scheme and maximise the benefits of blood testing.