EU scientists review safety of lamb after BSE scare

08 September 1998

EU scientists review safety of lamb after BSE scare

EUROPEAN UNION scientists are reviewing the safety of lamb after a British scientist said it was a “distinct possibility” that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or “mad cow disease” had got into sheep.

The finding has potentially huge ramifications. Dr Franz Fischler, the European agriculture commissioner, is also submitting proposals to ban high-risk parts of sheep from the food chain while further research is carried out. Although Britain has implemented such measures, other European countries have not.

Jeffrey Almond, professor of microbiology at Reading University, said there was “a distinct possibility that BSE is out there in the sheep population”. He went on to say that if it was found then all the sheep in the UK – some 40 million – might have to be slaughtered.

Professor Almond chairs the sheep sub-group recently set up by the Governments Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) to co-ordinate research.

The SEAC committee advised the Government two years ago of the risk that BSE might have got into sheep and be mistaken for scrapie. It called on the Government to fund extra research to find out if this were the case.

The main difficulty of further testing is the high costs involved. Strain-typing tests to show whether an infected sheep is suffering from scrapie or BSE cost £30,000 each and take up to two years to produce results.

John Collinge, head of neurogenics at the Imperial College School of Medicine and also a member of SEAC, said there was a need to scale up to tests to screen thousands of animals.

Ben Gill, president of the NFU, commented that: “It is essential to remember that not a single case of BSE has been found in a commercial flock.”

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