26 October 2001

Scrapie rams for cull

ALL rams susceptible to scrapie will be culled or castrated under government plans to regain confidence after the fiasco surrounding its BSE tests. Ministers have prepared a Bill which aims to accelerate the National Scrapie Plan and breed the disease out of the national flock.

The Bill, which will soon be put before MPs, would give the government "powers to ensure we can remove from the flock the genotypes of sheep susceptible to scrapie", DEFRA minister Margaret Beckett said on Oct 22.

The announcement was timed to quell growing criticism of DEFRA in the wake of the sheep-cattle brain mix-up. The Food Standards Agency and the NFU both called for anti-scrapie measures to be speeded up after the fiasco.

Public confidence in British lamb looks shaky. The baby food maker Cow & Gate said it would buy sheep which were genetically resistant to diseases such as BSE. The company is also considering extending the requirement to all rams already on the 50 farms supplying the company.

Scrapie eradication started this summer on a voluntary basis open only to registered pedigree flock owners. So far, however, only 4700 farmers – 30% of those eligible – have signed up. The government is now considering opening it to non-registered pedigree flocks.

The intention is to make it compulsory for all sheep farmers to have their animals genotyped for scrapie resistance, said a DEFRA spokesman. "Any rams that are susceptible will be castrated or slaughtered," he added.

The National Sheep Association said it would be a mixed blessing if the government took out every single susceptible sheep. "It will have some advantage as long as it does not take out too many sheep that have important merits for commercial purposes," said NSA chief executive John Thorley.

Food Standards Agency chairman Sir John Krebs said quick and effective action was needed to reassure the public. "There is an urgent need to reduce the uncertainty on BSE in sheep and look at what further precautionary measures are needed," he added.