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BSE SCARE - It's sheep this time
Posted 1 December 2003
The spectre of BSE in sheep has once again made front-page national news. Scrapie tests on the brains of 30,000 sheep recovered from slaughterhouses found that 28 of the animals had a disease other than scrapie - possibly BSE.
The government's expert committee on BSE - SEAC - declared itself 'baffled' and called for further research.
BSE in sheep poses particular problems for meat eaters. Officials have claimed that, whilst the infection in cows is present only in the central nervous system and the brain itself, it affects many more tissues in sheep. Therefore, the disease is likely to be much more widespread throughout the various cuts of meat.
'It could mean that millions of consumers in Britain and Europe have put themselves at risk of infection over the past decade', wrote the Daily Mail (September 20).
A 'worst-case scenario' would be the incineration of the UK's entire sheep flock of 36 million animals.
The European Union has insisted on more testing of sheep for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (BSE-type diseases) and it was in the course of this programme that the 28 unexplained results were discovered.
There are likely to be several months of further testing before explanations are offered. The whole BSE/scrapie research programme is, however, already under suspicion following the collapse two years ago of experiments that were meant to check sheep brains for evidence of BSE. It turned out that the organs in question were more likely to have been wrongly-labelled cattle brains.
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