22 October 2001
Two more years for sheep BSE probe

By Alistair Driver

FARMERS face more uncertainty after food safety officials admitted it could take two years before it is known whether BSE is present in sheep.

Food Standards Agency chairman Sir John Krebs called on the government to speed up its efforts to find out whether the disease has jumped to sheep.

His comments follow a four-year testing programme which collapsed because scientists had been studying cow brains rather than sheep brains.

It could take two years before fresh experiments are completed, Sir John told an agency board meeting in London on Monday (22 October).

“We have made it clear that more definite action with a definite timetable needs to be taken by the government,” he said.

Sir John said the government should fund more work on developing tests to distinguish between BSE and scrapie in sheep.

During a lively board discussion, he admitted that it was still unclear what exactly went wrong with the botched experiments.

The study of samples what were thought to be 3000 sheep brains had indicated that up to 1% of the national flock was infected with BSE.

But a press statement published on a government website late last Wednesday (17 October) admitted that the tests had been botched.

Scottish farmer and Food Standards Agency board member Michael Gibson said it was fortunate officials had been told to cross-check the results.

“If we had not recommended these tests, we might have been pushing the panic button on the entire national sheep flock,” he said.

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