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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 06:51 GMT
Sheep BSE claims 'pure speculation'
Farm burning
Sheep did not escape foot-and-mouth disease culling
Farming leaders in Wales have dismissed as "pure speculation" research claiming lamb poses a greater risk from BSE than beef.

On Wednesday, scientists at London's Imperial College said 150,000 people in the UK could die from eating infected meat if sheep as well as cattle carry the brain disease.

But the National Farmers' Union in Wales poured scorn on the suggestion, which the Food Standards Agency earlier dismissed as "theoretical" as no link between sheep and BSE has been proved.

There is still no evidence at all of naturally occurring BSE in sheep, despite studies

NFU Cymru spokesman
The claims, in a letter to science journal Nature, centre on the potential health risks from variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (vCJD) if BSE had been transmitted to sheep.

Leading the research team, Professor Neil Ferguson said: "Our latest analysis shows that the current risk from sheep could be greater than that from cattle, due to the more intensive controls in place to protect human health from exposure to infected cattle, as compared with sheep."

If correct, that could be disastrous for Wales' 10 million sheep and the Welsh lamb industry.

Meat link

Prof Ferguson said the number of deaths could rise from 50,000, with beef the only source, to 150,000 if lamb was also a carrier.

But the team claimed the health risk could be reduced by up to 90% if screening of sheep was introduced around the UK.

Cattle carcass being examined for signs of BSE (AP)
Cattle carcass being examined for signs of BSE
And it wants to restrict the age on sheep slaughtered for food and ban offal and spinal cord tissue from sheep entering the food supply.

But an NFU Cymru spokesman derided the claims as "nothing more than a mathematical model which is purely speculative."

He said: "There is still no evidence at all of naturally occurring BSE in sheep, despite a raft of different studies."

No cases of BSE in sheep have been reported and Professor Peter Smith, who advises the UK Government on BSE and vCJD, said the study should not increase people's concern.

The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said a new sheep screening programme was launched in January.

Meanwhile, the Food Standards Agency has not advised consumers against buying lamb.

The BBC's Richard Black
"Sheep and cows in the UK were fed the same kind of meal"





See also:

09 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
New BSE warning over lamb
30 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Verdict awaited in BSE brains mix-up
28 Sep 01 | UK
Q&A: BSE in sheep
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