Speed up sheep BSE research – FSA

31 October 2000

Speed up sheep BSE research – FSA

By Alistair Driver

THE Food Standards Agency has called on the government to speed up its research into whether BSE is present in the UK sheep flock.

Agency officials identified an “urgent need” to develop a system enabling more sheep to be tested for BSE during its review of BSE controls in the UK.

The review, commissioned by the government in March, will be finalised at a board meeting next Thursday (9 November).

“There is a theoretical possibility that sheep in the national flock have BSE,” agency chairman Sir John Krebs said on Tuesday (31 October).

“Although it has not been detected in the national herd, it is possible BSE is being masked by scrapie, a similar disease affecting 5-10,000 sheep a year.”

Sir John said the current screening programme involves feeding scrapie-infected sheep to mice and then waiting to see if they contract BSE.

The painstaking method costs 20,000 a sheep and takes up two years. As a result only 200 sheep are currently being tested for BSE.

Bio-chemical tests currently being developed by scientists will soon be ready to use and should prove much quicker, said Sir John.

The agency wants MAFF and the sheep industry to take advantage of these developments and help reduce the uncertainty about BSE in sheep, he added.

The agency is also urging MAFF to develop a thorough risk management programme while BSE in sheep remains a theoretical possibility.

It is embarking on a breeding programme using rams that are genetically resistant to scrapie. But this will take 10 years to complete, said Sir John.

Current controls would not be sufficient and additional measures may be needed if BSE was found in sheep, he admitted.

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