23 May 1997

Extra funds for live BSE test

GOVERNMENT is spending £300,000 to develop a live animal test for the early stages of BSE based on chemical changes to body fluids.

The work extends the preliminary findings of Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research scientists based at Aberystwyth.

Using samples taken from cows in IGERs Trawsgoed dairy herd for other projects, the team discovered indications that chemical changes occurred in the blood, urine and other fluids of cattle that subsequently developed BSE.

Changes took place well before the behavioural symptoms of the disease became obvious, raising the possibility of using early diagnosis to accelerate BSE eradication. This concept will be explored by the new programme. But farmers have been warned that it could take 18 months or more to evolve a reliable test for live cattle.

Samples re-examined

"We now have three years of MAFF funding to go back to the samples and find out exactly what compounds are involved, and whether these are specific to BSE, or relate to illness in general," said researcher Jon Moorby.

"If we had a live animal test now we would be able to select animals for culling much more precisely than at present."

Institute director, Chris Pollock, said a test would be a major advance, and could make a valuable contribution to ending the ban on exports.

The possibility of live animal screening was welcomed by the Farmers Union of Wales, though commodities officer, Arwyn Owen, acknowledged that it was vital to get the export ban lifted much sooner than 18 months time.n