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Brussels, 17 December 2002

Member States endorse Commission proposals to combat TSE in sheep and goats

The European Union's Member States yesterday accepted proposals from Commissioner David Byrne to introduce a new programme to eradicate and prevent scrapie in sheep. Byrne's proposals aim to reduce the incidence of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) in sheep and goats through breeding programmes to increase resistance, a tightened eradication policy and new import rules. The only TSE known to exist in sheep and goats is scrapie, which has existed for centuries and has not to date had implications for human health. BSE, which is a form of TSE, may in theory have infected sheep and goats, but there is no field evidence of this. Member States backed the proposals at a meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, composed of veterinary experts from the Member States.

"I am very pleased that the Member States have accepted my proposals for eradication and breeding programmes," said David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. "Scrapie has proven to be a very difficult disease to eradicate by traditional means. Increasing the resistance of our sheep population to the disease represents the best long-term strategy for combating it."

The first Decision will require most Member States to put in place a breeding programme for resistance to TSE in their sheep flocks. The aim is to increase the level of the resistant gene in the sheep. The Decision builds on progress already achieved through national programmes in the Netherlands, United Kingdom and France. It also provides a framework for the recognition of certain flocks as TSE resistant. The Regulation includes derogations to protect breeds of sheep that are threatened with extinction.

The second Regulation introduces rules for the eradication of scrapie from a farm following confirmation of a case of scrapie in sheep or goats. For sheep, the policy is again heavily based on genetic resistance and involves the destruction of all animals except the most resistant. These premises may then be re-stocked only with resistant animals. Again derogations are foreseen to allow Member States time to build up their stocks of resistant animals and to protect breeds with a low natural level of resistant gene.

The third Regulation brings import requirements for live sheep and goats into line with those applying within the European Union. Those measures are designed to ensure that only scrapie resistant animals, or animals from scrapie free flocks, are imported into the EU so internal efforts to eliminate scrapie are not undermined by imports.

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