28 November 2001
BSE-proof sheep breeds ‘essential’

By Adrienne Francis

IT is vital to breed sheep resistant to BSE-type conditions to counter concerns that some flocks may have the disease, warns The Daily Telegraph.

Beneath a dramatic picture of burning beef carcasses, science editor, Roger Highfield warns that BSE could be present in scores of animals.

This follows research by scientists at Oxford University and the Institute of Animal Health.

Dr Rowland Kao from the project suggests that up to 1500 sheep could have been infected during the epidemics peak in 1990.

Mr Highfield writes that if the disease were spread through maternal transmission, today the figure would be fewer than 20.

But Dr Kao believes that, unlike in cattle, BSE may spread from sheep to sheep, which he says happens with scrapie, a similar disease.

If BSE were to take hold, it could infect a greater number of animals, he claims.

“There would be few cases of BSE now, but many more later,” warned Dr Kao. “We would be in the early stages of a slow moving epidemic.”

Sheep were fed the same meat and bonemeal believed to have caused BSE in cattle and there are fears the disease has been masked by scrapie.

Mr Highfield says the study shows the importance of a project to breed sheep with genetic resistance to scrapie.

Moves to accelerate the programme are being considered, as the original project would take 10 years to have an effect.

Laboratory experiments have shown that BSE could theoretically exist in sheep, but the disease has never been found in the national flock.