2 November 2001

Scrapie moves threaten rare breeds

SOME of Britains rarest sheep breeds could be wiped out if compulsory culling or castration of sheep believed to be susceptible to scrapie is introduced.

Ministers face growing calls to protect certain rare breeds following the publication of the Animal Health Bill.

The bill would give the government powers to slaughter, castrate or sterilise sheep which do not have scrapie-resistant genes. The aim is to force farmers to help eradicate the BSE-type disease.

The plan to eradicate scrapie has already met criticism. Veterinary consultant Tony Andrews claims sheep carrying the scrapie-resistant gene could still carry the disease (see p33). And the National Sheep Association claims unique genes that could bring benefits will be lost if all susceptible sheep are culled.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust said northern short-tailed primitive breeds of sheep, which include Shetlands, Soays and Castlemilk Moorits, are generally not resistant.

The trust is helping to organise a special DEFRA-funded genotyping programme for rare breeds to gauge the extent of the problem.

Jeremy Roberts, chairman of the Castlemilk Moorit Breed Society, said: "If the scheme is made compulsory our breed will disappear."

The sheep should be exempted because there are so few of them they are insignificant in terms of disease transmission.

Junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley said he would offer some hope to breeds. "There is going to be some flexibility. We will take into account the need to protect rare specialist breeds," he insisted. &#42