- Government scientists are to check deer to see whether
they harbour BSE-like diseases under a research programme designed to close
loopholes in the battle against a menace that has probably killed more
than 100 Britons since 1995 and dogged agriculture for nearly 10 years
longer. Precautionary steps to reassure officials about the safety of
will involve collecting specimens from farmed animals to check their brains
and tonsils for both BSE and a similar killer of deer and elk in the United
States, chronic wasting disease (CWD).
- Britain's large wild deer population may also be
for the two diseases although no laboratory experiment to ascertain whether
BSE in cattle can be transmitted by injection or feed to deer has been
- In another step to ensure livestock is BSE-free, pigs
and poultry in laboratories may be fed affected material. These farm
ate far more meat and bonemeal contaminated with BSE than cattle before
the feeding practice was banned, but there is no evidence so far from
experiments that the disease can be transmitted to pigs or poultry by food.
Large injections of infected material can produce the disease in
- The measures are among several demanded by the food
agency to bolster defences against the threat of more consumers being
poisoned by infected food eaten years before the signs of variant CJD -
the human form of BSE - even occur.
- Work on implementing them was delayed by the foot and
mouth crisis and they come on top of vastly increased testing regimes for
cattle, sheep and goats demanded by the EU.
- The deer survey will involve both a postal questionnaire
of farmers to establish whether they have noticed BSE-like diseases and
checks on animals which fall ill or die. Organisations that cull wild deer
for environmental management and hunters may become involved if the net
- Official figures suggest there are 36,000 deer on just
over 300 farms in the UK, although the food standards agency does not know
the size of venison consumption in Britain. The scale of wild deer is
although there may be 500,000 in Scotland alone.
- Deer experts believe wild populations are healthy, apart
from some outbreaks of TB.
- A Department of the Environment spokesman said that
laboratories already cross-checked some deer samples collected for other
purposes and had found no evidence of BSE-like diseases.
- Jane Emerson, of the British Deer Farmers Association,
said members had been kept up to date with news of the CWD outbreak in
the US and it was highly unlikely that deer in the UK had been infected
through feed with BSE.
- "But you have to be aware of the risks and what
the symptoms are," she said.