It is important to act quickly and effectively to provide public reassurance on BSE in sheep. Agency advice has been consistent – there is no reason to avoid the consumption of lamb. But the theoretical risk remains and there is an urgent need to reduce the uncertainty on BSE in sheep and look at whether further precautionary measures are needed. This can only be resolved through effective public action.

The Food Standards Agency proposes to review the precautionary measures and, with SEAC, current research into BSE in sheep. This review will be part of a process that will include a public stakeholder meeting to be held before Christmas. The Agency reaffirms its view, acknowledging the practical difficulties, that:

  • The current screening programme for TSEs should be expanded

  • The national scrapie plan should be accelerated with clear statements of what is deliverable

  • There is an urgent requirement to develop a validated rapid test to detect the possible presence of BSE in sheep

  • European-wide TSE surveillance should be undertaken on sheep And that there is a need for an audit on the Institute of Animal Health (IAH) sheep experiments that is thoroughly independent and transparent.

Notes to editors

  1. SEAC, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, was set up in 1990. It provides independent scientific advice to the Food Standards Agency and other Government Departments on BSE and other spongiform encephalopathies.

  2. TSE, Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy, is a disease of the neurological system where there is spongy degeneration of the brain and progressive dementia. Both scrapie and BSE are examples of TSE’s in animals.

  3. The national scrapie plan is a Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) initiative. A key element of the plan is a breeding programme to produce sheep resistant to TSE’s.

  4. The IAH experiment involved testing for the presence of BSE-like strains in the pooled homogenised brains of nearly 3,000 scrapie-infected sheep collected in the early 1990s. It is this experiment that has been called into question by the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, which has concluded that the samples were bovine tissue not sheep tissue.