FSA News Item, 13 March 2006
The Food Standards Agency is keeping consumers informed about the situation relating to the emerging evidence on atypical scrapie in sheep and goats following its open Board meeting of 9 March 2006 .
FSA Board discussion: 9 March 2006
The FSA Board had an initial discussion about the significance of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee's (SEAC) statement, released on 28 February 2006 . SEAC is an independent expert scientific committee that advises Government.
Following this discussion, the Agency's advice on the risk of eating sheep and goats remains unchanged. The FSA is not advising people to stop eating sheep or goat meat or products.
The FSA Board is expected to discuss this issue again in April 2006 and will consider the practicality of possible precautionary measures, initial stakeholder responses and any emerging information.
Prior to the 9 March open Board meeting, the Agency's previous update on atypical scrapie in sheep and goats was on 28 February 2006 . The update followed the SEAC statement. SEAC has been considering the significance of atypical scrapie, a brain disease of the type known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) that affects sheep and goats. The most well known TSE is one that affects cattle: BSE.
Sheep are known to get another TSE known as classical scrapie. Unlike BSE, classical scrapie is not known to be linked to any human disease. To date, BSE has not been found in the current UK sheep flock, although surveillance is ongoing.
In 2003 the FSA Board first discussed emerging evidence of the possible existence of atypical scrapie (then referred to as anomalous or unconfirmed scrapie) and acknowledged uncertainties about the significance of these findings. Since then, scientists in the UK and internationally, including SEAC members, have been working to better understand the significance of these findings.
The SEAC statement, published following its meeting on 24 February 2006 , looked at the potential impact of atypical scrapie on human and animal health. SEAC concluded that 'atypical scrapie could reliably be distinguished both from classical scrapie and from experimental BSE in sheep'. The SEAC statement also concludes: 'There is no evidence to date that atypical scrapie can infect humans, although a theoretical risk cannot be excluded.'
The FSA Board had an initial discussion of the significance of these findings at the open Board meeting on 9 March 2006 .
In the meantime, the Agency's advice on the risk of eating sheep and goats remains unchanged. The FSA is not advising people to stop eating sheep or goat meat or products.
Dr Alison Gleadle, Head of the FSA's TSE Division, said:
'The Food Standards Agency has always been open about the uncertainty surrounding the possible risk of BSE and other brain diseases in sheep. Emerging evidence and expert opinion is pointing to more uncertainty. Much more work is needed before we can form a clearer picture of what, if any, risk there might be to people.
'While FSA advice remains that are not advising people to stop eating sheep or goat meat or products, this issue will be discussed thoroughly by our Board and kept under review as evidence emerges.'
Due to controls to protect consumers from BSE, all parts most likely to carry BSE infectivity are removed from cattle and sheep before entering the food chain. These parts are referred to as Specified Risk Material (SRM). However, BSE-infected sheep are thought to have similar tissue distribution of infectivity to scrapie-infected sheep. This means that the existing SRM controls would be insufficient to eliminate all the risk of exposure to BSE infectivity. Nevertheless, these SRM controls offer further protection to consumers should research reveal atypical scrapie poses a risk to human health.
In addition, SEAC refers to SRM controls in its statement, saying: 'The available evidence suggests that, unlike experimental BSE in sheep, atypical scrapie may be absent from the lympho reticular system (LRS). Thus, assuming SRM regulations remain in place, if atypical scrapie can be transmitted to human, it may pose a relatively lower health risk than BSE if it ever enters the sheep flock. However, one study using oral delivery to a VRQ sheep suggests that PrPres may be present in the LRS. It is urgent to clarify this issue.'