02/06/2004

BSE in sheep contingency plan published

A consultation document on the UK's contingency plan for BSE in sheep has been published today.

Launching the plan today, Defra and the other UK Agriculture and Rural Affairs Departments said that, while BSE has not been found naturally occurring in sheep, there was a "theoretical risk" that BSE could be present in sheep, masked as scrapie.

Scrapie is part of the family of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (which includes BSE) and is a fatal neurological disease of sheep. It has been present in the national flock for over 250 years, but is not considered to be transmissible to humans. However, there is a theoretical risk that BSE is present in sheep in the UK, masked as scrapie, although it has not been found occurring naturally.

Research has indicated that the behaviour of scrapie in goats is similar to that in sheep. Any action in response to BSE in sheep would, therefore, be extended to goats.

Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said that the existence of the plan does not point to the likelihood of there being a heightened risk of BSE in sheep at the moment, moreover, "consumers, farmers and other stakeholders including the EU, would expect us to have a plan". EU Regulation 999/2001 requires Member States to draw up contingency plans for BSE in sheep.

He added: "Our objective is to protect public health, safeguard animal welfare and manage the impact on the industry and on the environment. We must do all we can to enable the sector to recover and supply the food chain as quickly as practicable.

The plan will build on the National Scrapie Plan which has "pioneered the use of genotyping" as a means through which genetic resistance to scrapie within our national flock can be increased.

The National Sheep Association's chief executive John Thorley said that his group would be advocating a "responsible approach" by government.

(gmcg)

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