14 August 1997
AI industry refutes BSE claims

By Boyd Champness

A REPORT commissioned by the EC into whether bull semen could contain BSE is “another example of EC stalling”, say UK artificial insemination experts. They point to the lack of BSE in the progeny of British bulls overseas – even when the donor bull carried the disease.

Early lifting of the ban on British beef could be in jeopardy as a result of the report.

The spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee (SEAC) – which was set up to advise the EC about BSE-related matters – has asked the Berlin institute for the protection of consumer health and veterinary medicine to deliver a report on whether BSE can be transmitted through bovine semen and embryos. The institute will deliver its report to the EC on September 8, when the commission meets to discuss whether US manufacturers should be excluded from the proposed ban on tallow.

But sceptics in the artificial insemination industry (AI), say the report is just another example of the EC stalling on its obligation to lift the export ban on British beef and could hurt the AI exports.

UK Genetics managing partner Rob Wills said he was confident that the report would find nothing to suggest that bull semen contains BSE – but is concerned that the investigation could damage the industry which is just starting to increase exports again after a year-and-a-half in the wilderness.

“If you bear in mind, that during the accepted BSE incubation period between 1981 and 1988, the UK exported some 10 million doses of bull semen around the world and there hasnt been one reported case of BSE anywhere in the world because of that export trade,” Mr Wills said. A number of UK bulls which had been involved in the export of semen had later been found to carry BSE, yet the disease has not emerged anywhere outside of the EU, he pointed out.

He said the semen export trade was just starting to take off again, with the US recently taking its first batch since the BSE crisis. There were now 23 countries which theoretically accepted UK bull semen, but in reality only Canada, Zimbabwe, the US and South Africa were actively involved.

“We were hoping to have New Zealand up and running by the end of the year, but that could be six to nine months away rather than next week,” said Mr Wills.

He said Australia was likely to take UK bull semen once New Zealand came back on line, and that South American countries would hopefully accept exports by the end of 1997.

Semen was originally included in the export ban announced in March last year, but was exempted three months later along with gelatine and tallow. However, the commission has since put gelatine and tallow back onto the banned list, initiating fears that it will do the same for bull semen.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) said it takes it advice from SEAC which currently states that bull semen is safe. He said SEAC had recently raised concerns about BSE being transferred maternally – which is thought to occur at a rate of less than 2% – but has said nothing in the past about paternal transmission.