HC Deb 30 October 2001 vol 373 cc591-2W
Mr. Curry

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will set out the latest position on(a) the research programme and (b) current monitoring of sheep brains for evidence of BSE infection. [9605]

Mr. Morley

DEFRA is funding a great deal of work in relation to BSE in sheep. This includes experiments to assess susceptibility, infectivity and possible transmission in sheep, particularly in relation to different genotypes and breeds. This work will underpin the national scrapie plan.

At their meeting in September 2001, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee reviewed the latest data from the current programme of strain typing work to assess whether BSE is present in the current sheep flock. To date, about 180 individual scrapie brains have been inoculated into mice. Results for 163 brains have reached a point where the mice might have been expected to display signs characteristic of BSE, if the disease was present. This has not happened. However, it is too soon to draw firm conclusions from these on-going experiments. Work is also in hand to develop molecular methods of differentiating BSE from scrapie to enable many more brains to be screened rapidly.

During the development of a molecular method at Veterinary Laboratory Agency (VLA), 460 sheep brains have been screened. None has indicated the presence of BSE, but the test is not yet fully validated and it is therefore too early to draw firm conclusions.