Brussels 09 March 2006
An expert panel from the Community Reference Laboratory in Weybridge has informed the European Commission that test results from the brains of two sheep from France and one from Cyprus show an unusual molecular profile that warrants further investigation, and while some data suggest that the samples may not be BSE in sheep, “there is insufficient evidence to definitively rule out BSE”. In line with EU legislation, the European Commission has requested that further investigations be carried out. TSEs are Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, a family of diseases characterised by a degeneration of brain tissue such as Creutzfeldt Jackob Disease in humans, scrapie in sheep and BSE in cows. The Commission, together with Member States, is considering a review of the current TSE monitoring programmes in sheep in order to get a better picture on the significance of these three cases. Following the detection of unusual TSE cases in these sheep in France and Cyprus, , the Commission had asked the CRL to continue investigations. The next level of testing, recommended by the CRL expert panel and which has been requested by the Commission , entails the use of the mouse bioassay test and will take between 12 -18 months to complete. BSE has never been found under natural circumstances in sheep, but the first case of BSE in a goat was confirmed last year (IP/05/132). The sheep now being evaluated were detected as part of the EU-wide surveillance programme for TSE strains in small ruminants. Whatever the final test findings show, there is no risk to public health, as the sheep did not enter the food and feed chain and strict animal health measures are applied to all farmed ruminants.
The two French sheep being tested were born in 2000 and 2002, and died on-farm. The Cypriot sheep which developed clinical signs of a TSE-linked disease was two years old. In line with EU requirements for TSE surveillance in small ruminants, all three animals were subject to post-mortem testing. These first test results were positive for TSE and therefore the samples were submitted for further testing to rule out the possibility of BSE (discriminatory molecular testing). The results from the second level of testing indicated an unusual pattern which warrants further investigation, and while some data suggested that the samples may not be BSE in sheep, there was insufficient evidence to definitively rule out the presence of BSE . For this reason, the CRL will now carry out the third and final level of testing (mouse bioassay), in line with EU legislation.
To date, BSE in sheep has been viewed as possible, but has never been detected. Nevertheless, EU measures against BSE have been applied to all farmed ruminants (cattle, goats, and sheep) to ensure the highest possible level of public health protection.
These safety measures include a ban on the use of animal proteins (meat-and-bone meal) in feedstuffs, the removal of specified risk materials (e.g. brain, spinal cord, part of the intestines) from the food and feed chain, the slaughter of sheep and goat herds affected by scrapie, and the application of a TSE surveillance/monitoring programme. This surveillance was intensified in all Member States last year, following the detection of one positive case of BSE in a goat. Over 1 400 000 sheep and 380 000 goats have been tested in the EU since April 2002.
The Commission will work with Member States in considering a review of the current TSE monitoring programmes in sheep in order to get a better picture of the significance of these three cases. . In addition, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was requested to accelerate the ongoing assessments on the risk that different sheep tissues could pose should BSE be confirmed in sheep, and on the current breeding programme which would favour TSE-resistant sheep.