BSEin sheep result out soon

5 October 2001

BSEin sheep result out soon

By Alistair Driver

and Shelley Wright

FARMERS should find out in the coming fortnight whether or not BSE has jumped from cattle to sheep.

SEAC, the governments BSE advisory committee is due to meet on Oct 19 when it will discuss the results from two recently completed trials.

Its conclusions will be passed to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which will meet on Monday Oct 22 to consider the findings and make any appropriate recommendations to the government.

Many producers have been concerned by animal health minister Elliot Morleys recent comments that slaughter of the entire national flock could be ordered if BSE is found in sheep.

One Scottish farmer, who asked not to be named, suggested that the minister was using this worst case scenario as a way of "softening people up" to bad news.

"I dont think we will be looking at eradication of the entire flock, but I expect bad news," he said.

And he suggested that Mr Morleys recent assertion that scrapie-resistant sheep cannot contract BSE could mean that government intends to step-up its scrapie eradication policy dramatically.

But Ben Gill, president of the NFU, questioned that. "I dont know how Mr Morley can say that scrapie-resistant sheep cant get BSE. I have seen no evidence to suggest that," he said.

He remains, however, "relatively relaxed" about the outcome of the SEAC and FSA meetings.

"One of the trials has involved looking at the brains of about 170 sheep killed in the past year or so. No sign of BSE has been found in any, which is very good news," Mr Gill said.

And the results of the other trial, which used pooled samples of sheep brains taken from animals slaughtered in the early 1990s, were unlikely to have much credibility because of potential contamination of the samples with cattle brain tissue, he added.

In August, the FSA said the trial, conducted by the Institute of Animal Health, "could be compatible with BSE having been in sheep at the time." But "the possibility that there may have been contamination of the samples with BSE infected cow brains makes it impossible to draw conclusions," the agency admitted.

Mr Morley accepted last week that doubts about the purity of the samples in the trial. If the final results showed evidence of BSE, checks on cross contamination would be needed, he said.

Mr Morley said that being open with the public about risk and putting in place contingency plans, including the possible slaughter of the national flock, were among the recommendations taken on board by the government following the BSE Inquiry.

But eradicating all sheep was a worst case scenario and was unlikely to be necessary even if BSE was found, he added.

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