10 January 2002
Food agency cool on sheep BSE fears

By Isabel Davies

THE Food Standards Agency (FSA) has sought to allay consumer fears about the risk of BSE in sheep by reminding the public the concept is still theoretical.

Scientists from Imperial College in London have warned up to 150,000 people could die from Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease if BSE is discovered in the national sheep flock.

But the food safety watchdog has issued a statement insisting it is not advising against the eating of lamb, and that no one knows whether BSE is in sheep.

Farmers are now hoping that the advice will be enough to allay consumer fears about the product.

The statement reveals the research, published in Nature magazine on Thursday (10 January), was commissioned by the FSA.

“This study does not show if BSE has entered the sheep flock,” it adds.

“It is based on limited data and uses a wide range of assumptions. Allowing for the uncertainties, it indicates how the theoretical risks might be further reduced.”

The FSA says the research will now be used to inform a report by a stakeholder group which will be issued for consultation.

Shadow rural affairs secretary Peter Ainsworth said scientists had to report what they found, but should bear in mind the impact their work could have on public opinion.

“The present climate of speculation is deeply unhelpful,” he said.

“Reports such as this are clearly capable of causing serious damage to public confidence in lamb and other sheep produce.”

Mr Ainsworth called for the government to speed up research into the safety of sheepmeat.