18/02 16 January 2002 PRESS RELEASE


The National Scrapie Plan (NSP), which through selective breeding for genetic resistance aims over time to eradicate scrapie from the national flock, was today extended to all purebred flocks and to all scrapie-affected flocks.

The first phase of the Plan, launched to pedigree sheep breeders in July last year, has so far attracted over 5,000 expressions of interest. Extension of the plan will open it up to 60,000 owners of sheep breeding flocks and speed up the overall effectiveness of the NSP.

Animal Health Minister Elliot Morley said today:

The National Scrapie Plan is a key part of DEFRAs TSEs strategy and there has been tremendous support from the industry for it. The time is now right to extend participation to all pure breeding flocks and to all scrapie-affected flocks. I urge every eligible sheep farmer to register an interest. Completing the Expression of Interest form will allow us to plan resources so that we can bring applicants into the scheme as quickly as possible.

Owners of sheep breeding flocks will receive a leaflet outlining the NSP and a letter inviting them to register interest in participating in a ram genotyping scheme. For those that register, the NSP Administration Centre will calculate the number of animals to be tested according to flock profile, including the number of animals sold or retained for breeding.

In general, flock owners will have all their adult (stock) rams, a proportion of their ram lambs and, in the case of smaller flocks, some ewes genotyped. NSP Certificates of Genotype will be issued, and owners will be contracted to breed only from rams of the more resistant genotypes.

Notes for editors

1. Scrapie is a fatal neurological disease of sheep. It has been present in the national flock for over 250 years, but is not considered to be transmissible to humans. There is a theoretical risk that BSE is present in sheep in the UK, although it has not been found occurring naturally. Because the external signs of scrapie and experimentally induced BSE in sheep are similar, if BSE were present scrapie may be masking it in flocks. The National Scrapie Plan addresses the theoretical possibility of BSE being present in sheep.

2. The National Scrapie Plan for Great Britain involves a programme of breeding for genetic resistance of which the ram genotyping scheme is the start. The NSP operates in Great Britain, which is a single veterinary area. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland is considering its own separate plan.

3. The genotyping schemes require participating flock owners to breed from and use scrapie-resistant sheep. A sheeps resistance or susceptibility to scrapie can be determined by genotyping. This involves testing a blood sample to look for certain information present on the sheep PrP gene. This determines whether or not a sheep may develop scrapie if exposed to the disease.

4. Owners of mixed breed/commercial flocks, other than scrapie-affected flocks, will remain ineligible at this stage and are being advised that the NSP Administration Centre will not process forms relating to such flocks.