This horrifying article comes from Alan Beat ( and concludes with the sentence:

Does anyone out there still think that compulsory scrapie testing is a good idea?

Scrapie Testing - a cautionary tale

I have spoken by telephone with a sheep-keeper in the Midlands who recently had her small flock tested for scrapie. This is the procedure that was to become compulsory under the proposed powers contained within the Animal Death Bill, until the House of Lords derailed it, only to re-surface within Statutory Instrument 843 that is currently before parliament. The flock-owner "volunteered" on the advice of the RBST, who had persuaded her that a scrapie-free flock was desirable (she breeds Shetlands and Dorset Downs).

A team of two DEFRA personnel turned up on the appointed day to carry out the tests. Blood samples were taken from the neck vein using standard "vacuum" tubes, but the first few sheep sampled proved such a struggle for the operator, with blood everywhere, that the owner insisted upon the older, more experienced person taking over. After this change, the blood samples were taken correctly.

The second part of the procedure involves the insertion of a bolus into the rumen of the sheep. The bolus contains microchip technology that enables a unique identity number to be read by passing a sensor over the outside of the sheep's body - like reading a bar-code. It is "about the size of a shotgun cartridge" and is administered by mouth using a special "gun" to place it at the back of the throat for immediate swallowing. The purpose is apparently to ensure the correct correlation between blood sample and individual animal, with no scope for cheating as with ear tags or other external identification marks.

The owner reports that the bolus was administered to the larger Dorset Downs without mishap, with the reader confirming the presence of the bolus in the rumen. However, the owner was concerned that the bolus was too large for her Shetlands to swallow, and asked if they proposed to change to using a smaller size. No, they saw no reason to change and administered the first bolus, which stuck part-way down the throat of a ram. Undeterred, they tried a second ram and this bolus also became stuck. At this point the owner flatly refused to proceed any further unless a smaller size was used. The operators changed to a smaller size (there are apparently two standard sizes) and worked through the rest of the Shetlands without further problems.

The whole process took six hours from start to finish, for just 23 Dorset Downs and 30 Shetlands. The owner commented that at this rate, a national testing programme would be a physical impossibility.

DEFRA advised that the two rams be given some feed to help them swallow the bolus. There was no change and the animals soon lost interest in food, since they were unable to swallow it. They were walked about for exercise, but nothing changed. They sat around without cudding. The next day the situation had still not changed, whereupon DEFRA announced the rams would have to be put down. Compensation was agreed and in due course a huge lorry arrived to take them away. The owner refused to load them, as there was no provision inside the lorry for partitioning into a suitable small space, so they would simply be sliding around all over the place.

It was agreed they be slaughtered on site, and this was done. The DEFRA vet said that this was extremely unusual and that it was only the second time that any animal had needed to be put down. The lorry driver, on the other hand, said that he had collected thirty carcases already - some with a stuck bolus, and others with damage to the back of the throat caused by the administering gun.

The owner said that the DEFRA operators were "useless" and she had been disgusted by the whole episode. She wanted a scrapie-free flock, but found the results of her tests confusing. For instance, Shetland parents that were both in the higher category genotypes produced offspring that were down at the lower end of the scale!

Although the owner has given permission to publish her experience, I have decided in her best interests not to publicly identify her in this account.

Does anyone out there still think that compulsory scrapie testing is a good idea?

Alan Beat 3rd May 2002