3 August 2001
BSE-in-sheep scare concerns farmers

By Alistair Driver

LIVESTOCK farmers have been dealt a further blow by high-profile media reports that BSE may have existed in British sheep in the 1990s.

The lead story in The Independent reports that preliminary results from experiments indicate that BSE may have infected sheep.

A cartoon accompanying the story shows a man talking to his sheep. The caption reads: “The good news is you havent got foot-and-mouth…”

The story says preliminary findings from tests on sheep brains from the 1990s “could be compatible with BSE having been found in sheep at the time”.

The report says the findings are incomplete. The initial results strongly indicate, but do not prove, that scrapie may in some cases have been BSE.

Two subsequent reports on page two of the same paper say the possibility of infection “could be a knock-out blow to an industry already under siege”.

The paper says the early results raise the “daunting possibility that BSE, like scrapie, might have become endemic within the national flock.

“A truly nightmarish scenario now looks more real than at any time before.”

An equally hard-hitting story in the Daily Mail warns that families who ate lamb in the early 1990s may have been at risk from BSE.

The paper reports that the finding, revealed in a Food Standards Agency statement, could be a hammer blow to an industry reeling from foot-and-mouth.

“It came as the government, farmers and retailers launched a campaign to encourage people to eat more lamb,” it says.

The Mail speculates that the FSA statement was designed to soften up the public for an autumn announcement confirming BSE in sheep.

The timing of the announcement suggests the government does not want to be accused of promoting lamb while privately investigating a health risk, it says.

The Food Standards Agency is not advising people to stop eating lamb.

But the Mail says the agency cannot rule out the possibility that sheep had BSE. Millions of sheep were feed meat and bonemeal in the early 1990s.

The Daily Telegraph takes a similar line. “Mad cow disease may have been present in sheep a decade ago,” says a story on page six of the paper.

The implications will be “very serious” if the findings are confirmed and would suggest more people may have been at risk from BSE.

The Guardian describes the findings as “a further blow to farmers”.