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Brussels, 24 octobre 2001

BSE - Scientific Steering Committee publishes opinion on potential risk of BSE in sheep and goats

The Scientific Steering Committee, advising the European Commission on Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathies (BSE) and other multi-disciplinary consumer health issues today published an opinion about the safety of sheep and goat products if BSE were to be confirmed or become probable in these small ruminants. The SSC had been asked to address these questions in view of a possible confirmation of the presence of BSE in sheep brains in ongoing experiments in the UK as announced by the UK Food Standards Agency in August this year. The UK government department responsible for the experiments however informed on October 18 th that the brain materials from the early 1990's that were used in the tests were unsuitable for the purpose.

Up to date there is no evidence that BSE is present in small ruminants under field conditions. The scientists however do not exclude that sheep were fed with potentially infected meat-and-bone meal in the past and therefore reaffirm their view that the risk that BSE is present in sheep cannot be excluded. They call for more research in a number of specific fields to fill in current gaps in scientific knowledge, and confirm that their previous opinions dealing with the risk of TSE in small ruminants remain valid.

The scientists recommend that urgent action be taken to validate and introduce rapid tests on sheep and goats to detect whether an animal is infected with a Transmissable Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE), which can be either BSE or scrapie. This would allow to compile essential data on the real TSE incidence and geographical spread which are badly needed. The rapid tests should preferably be done on lymphoid tissues that show infectivity in sheep in the early stages of incubation instead of brain tissue.

Testing efforts should be linked to genotyping of the animals tested, so that the possible genetic resistance to TSE of certain types of sheep can be ascertained. For the moment the scientists consider there are insufficient guarantees that certain scrapie-resistant genetic sheep strains are not silent carriers of TSEs. A combined rapid testing and genotyping programme would provide the scientific basis for confirming that scrapie-resistant sheep genotypes do not harbour any TSEs. Certification of flocks that are scrapie- and TSE free, in combination with better identification and tracing of small ruminants will, according to the SSC, offer the best policy option for the safe sourcing of sheep and goat products and consumer protection in the longer term. The scientists however recommend that the existing uncertainties about TSE resistance in sheep are addressed before the possible EU-wide introduction of breeding programmes of TSE resistant animals.

The SSC considers that its previous opinions on specified risk materials that need to be taken out of the food chain will require updating if BSE were to become probable in sheep and goats. The Committee however reaffirms its view that sheep and goat milk and milk products do not present a possible risk, provided milk of suspect animals is excluded from the food chain.

The full text of today's opinion is available at:

Previous SCC opinions on TSE in Sheep are available at the same address.


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