- Up to 40m sheep might have to be killed if any are found
to have BSE, the disease thought to be the cause of the fatal brain disease
vCJD in humans.
- The government yesterday published a contingency plan
for how it would react in a worst case scenario.
- Next month, the government is expected to receive results
of research to show whether there is BSE in sheep as well as the similar
brain disease scrapie.
- If BSE is found it is likely that at least a partial
ban will be imposed on eating lamb, creating further crisis in an industry
already reeling because of foot and mouth.
- So far, beyond laboratory tests, there is no evidence
that sheep contract BSE.
- There are thousands of cases of scrapie a year, but it
is not harmful to humans. However, because the symptoms of the disease
are so similar to BSE, the government is checking that BSE does not also
exist in the national flock. Preliminary results have been
- The contingency plans were drawn up following the BSE
inquiry, which said the government should be prepared for the eventuality
that BSE had also spread to sheep.
- The government also followed up another recommendation
and has begun a national pro gramme of eliminating scrapie from
- Advances in genetics have shown that a quarter of sheep
in Britain have immunity to scrapie. By encouraging sheep farmers to use
rams immune to the disease the government hopes to get rid of it
- Using the same methods the government hopes to avoid
killing all 40m sheep if BSE is discovered in the national flocks. They
would be killed selectively after genetic testing.
- Yesterday the government also published its response
to the BSE inquiry, and Elliott Morley, the agriculture minister, said
he believed the culture of secrecy and protection of the food industry
criticised in the report had disappeared.
- The report revealed that further research had shown that
feeding young calves with infected animal protein might have been the cause
of the epidemic, transferring scrapie from sheep to cattle in the form
- This was the original theory for the spread of the
which had been discounted.
- Hopes that BSE would be eliminated by this year have
been dashed, the report says. There are still an average of 20 cases a
week, compared with 1,000 a week at the height of the epidemic in 1993.
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