Brussels, 28 October 2004
What are Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs)?
TSEs are a family of diseases occurring in man and animals that are characterised by a degeneration of brain tissue giving a sponge-like appearance. The family includes diseases such as Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and scrapie in sheep and goats. While BSE has only recently been identified, scrapie has been known for centuries and on the basis of the available data is not considered to be transmissible to humans nor to pose a risk to man. However, as a precautionary measure, EU legislation in place to prevent the spread and transmission of BSE applies also to sheep and to goats.
Will extensive monitoring make it more likely to discover a BSE case?
Ever since BSE was discovered in cattle, an extensive monitoring and
surveillance regime for scrapie and BSE has been in place also for sheep and
goats. Monitoring and passive surveillance of the sheep and goat population for
the presence of scrapie has been an EU requirement since 1998 and scrapie is a
notifiable animal disease since 1993. Active surveillance of a sample of healthy
slaughter and risk animals over the age of 18 months by using the TSE-rapid test
was introduced in January 2002. It utilises the same tests as used for
BSE-testing in cattle, since those are designed to recognise TSEs. The level of
testing was greatly increased from 1 April 2002. Every year about 350000 sheep
and 50000 goats are tested resulting in the monitoring of over 1 million animals
Given this widespread testing, it is not a big surprise that a isolated cases of BSE could be found, but it does not indicate that there is a widespread problem. The monitoring results indicate a very low incidence of scrapie in the goat population. Furthermore more advanced test methods to differentiate between BSE and scrapie could until now not confirm BSE in goats.
Would the EU be prepared for the existence of BSE in goats?
Yes, it would be. Scientists have also followed the issue of BSE in sheep and goats closely, since it is known that sheep and goats were partially fed during the 1980s and early 1990s with feedstuffs containing the same type of contaminated meat and bone meal (MBM) that was responsible for causing the spread of BSE in cattle. It has also been known for some time that a BSE-like disease can be experimentally transmitted to sheep by feeding them material derived from the brains of BSE-affected cows.
Scientific advice (see question below) has been developed at EU level, issuing a range of recommendations and describing how a combination of approaches might be used to protect public health in the event of BSE being confirmed in sheep or goats under field conditions.
What safety measures are in place already?
Rigorous and extensive legislation has been adopted at EU level to prevent the spread and transmission of BSE among cattle. Many of these measures are also applied to goats and sheep, as additional safety measure. The most important are:
Are goat milk, cheese and meat safe?
Currently, as precautionary measure and following scientific advice, milk and meat from herds which are affected by a TSE case, cannot be used according to EU legislation. Therefore, we advice no change in current consumption of milk, cheese and meat.
What about sheep?
All the precautionary measures applying to goats, as outlined above, also apply to sheep. In addition, it has been shown that sheep of a certain genetic make-up (genotype) are more resistant or even possibly immune to scrapie. Research suggests that this immunity would also apply to BSE. Breeding programmes in the EU that aim to increase the population of sheep that is immune to scrapie are therefore an important long-term precautionary measure against both scrapie and BSE.
Scientific information about TSE in sheep and goats
Before the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was set up, the Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) co-ordinated the scientific advice on BSE at EU level.
The last opinion of the SSC on the subject of BSE in small ruminants was adopted in April 2002: http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/ssc/out257_en.pdf
October 2001 http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/ssc/out234_en.pdf
and September 1998 http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/ssc/out24_en.html
The SSC opinion from April 2002 is the most comprehensive scientific advice, issuing a range of recommendations in terms of extending the range of specified risk material, use of rapid tests, individual identification, breeding for resistance, flock certification and culling measures. It also describes how a combination of approaches might be used to protect public health in the event of BSE being confirmed in small ruminants under field conditions.
On 26 November 2003, EFSA’s Scientific Panel on Biological Hazards adopted an opinion indicating that there is no need to revise previous opinions on the breeding for TSE resistance, culling strategies or safe sourcing of small ruminants, based on the information that was available at that time.