Hope your Christmas was peaceful - I see our research friends are trying to disrupt the New Year again!

Like Bryn, I think Prof. Ferguson should have some fresh air, preferably in the countryside where he can observe our perfectly sane sheep! I can only assume that the time has come to attract more funding to Imperial College and what better way to do it but by an article of "abstract sensationalism". Such theories can only alarm the general public and deeply upset those whose families have been affected by vCJD and who are desperately looking for answers.

Prof. Ferguson has not answered a very important point.Even assuming BSE is there in sheep and is being masked by scrapie, why haven't the numbers of scrapie infected sheep risen markedly over the years? Far from the "thousands" mentioned by the Independent, the annual number of scrapie positives range variously from 235 - 597 during the years 1993-2000, according to DEFRA figures. (Figures to November 2001 were 219, but FMD may have had an influence on reporting in this last year.)

I think, with respect, that Prof. Ferguson should also consider another factor - the effects of overkill. Sensationalist headlines scare the public - consumption of lamb goes down, increased slaughter costs and depressed market prices put sheep farmers out of business. Before you know it the sheep industry in this country is a minor player and does not attract research funding. The other alternative is that the Government is panicked into killing the whole British flock and replacing it with "safe" sheep from abroad. As the sheep are now "safe" - scrapie and bse free (as far as anyone can tell) - research into these diseases is no longer needed. Perhaps the scientists should do some computer modelling on the risks of doing themselves out of a job - or maybe someone could just pull out the plug and put them out of their misery!

All the best,