Atypical scrapieSheep disease sparks health fears

01 March 2006

Which? is demanding answers from the government over whether a recently discovered BSE-type disease in sheep and goats could have implications for people's health.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says work is underway to test whether the disease - called atypical scrapie - could be a risk to humans who eat infected sheep and goat products. The FSA will discuss discuss the implications when its board meets on 9 March.

The newly discovered disease is relatively widespread in sheep flocks in Europe. It's estimated that there are now at least 82,000 infected sheep in the UK.

Atypical scrapie is not BSE in sheep but is a different disease.The FSA is also continuing surveillance for BSE in sheep, as it can't rule out a 'theoretical risk' that sheep could be infected with it.

'We need urgent answers'

Sue Davies, Which? Chief Policy Adviser, said: 'The government and FSA have to treat any potential risk to humans as the overriding priority and must continue to keep the public fully aware of what is and isn't known so that we are in a position to make informed decisions for ourselves and our families.

'We need urgent answers to the many uncertainties surrounding this finding as quickly as possible so that there is a better understanding of whether there are any human health implications and if so, whether existing control measures are adequate.'

The FSA isn't advising people to stop eating sheep or goat meat or products. Dr Alison Gleadle from the FSA said: 'The FSA has always been open about the uncertainty surrounding the possible risk of BSE and other brain diseases in sheep. Emerging evidence and expert opinion is pointing to more uncertainty. Much more work is needed before we can form a clearer picture of what, if any, risk there might be to people.'

'While FSA advice remains that we are not advising people to stop eating sheep and goats, this issue will be discussed thoroughly by our board and kept under review as evidence emerges.'