25 October 2001
BSE-in-sheep answers ‘in months’

By FWi staff

FARMERS could know within months, rather than years, whether BSE exists in sheep, according to the governments chief scientist.

Professor David King has been asked to review the current state of research into BSE-type diseases in sheep.

His appointment comes after experiments into whether BSE exists in sheep collapsed because scientists were mistakenly testing cattle brains.

In the wake of the fiasco over the Institute of Animal Health tests, ministers are desperate to get to the bottom of the issue.

Prof King told BBC Radio 4s Today programme that new tests which produce results within 48 hours will help.

“I am rather confident that, using this fast technique, we will be able to gather a significant amount of data in a short period of time,” he said.

The government only has “one or two instruments” conducting the tests. It would take months to come up with definitive results, said Prof King.

The experiments are “very sophisticated and rather difficult”, he added.

Prof King said the government is in the process of validating the tests, but gave no indication of when the validation will be completed.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said 465 sheep had already been tested and have shown no sign of BSE.

But he admitted there is a “grey area” over whether the tests can be deemed credible if they have not been validated by European Union scientists.

Food Standards Agency chairman John Krebs said was an urgent requirement to develop a validated rapid test to detect BSE in sheep.

He also warned that other experiments similar to the doomed Institute of Animal Health tests could take years to produce definitive results.

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