2 November 2001
Scrapie plan threatens rare breeds

By Alistair Driver

SOME of Britains rarest sheep breeds could be wiped out by proposals to cull or castrate sheep believed to be susceptible to scrapie.

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.

But 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 rare breeds of sheep, which include Shetlands, Soays and Castlemilk Moorits, are generally not resistant.

The trust is helping to organise a special government-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.

Countryside 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.”

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