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11 July 2003


Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw announced today changes that will enable keepers of recognised rare breeds of sheep participating in the voluntary National Scrapie Plan to put off, should they wish to do so, the required slaughter of their most TSE susceptible breeding rams pending the outcomes of further Defra funded research.

The temporary changes follow the completion of a NSP survey, undertaken in conjunction with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, to establish TSE resistant and susceptible genotype frequencies and distribution levels in those rare breeds recognised by the Trust.

Announcing the changes, Mr Bradshaw said:

"While the NSP \ RBST genotype survey indicates that the application of genotype based breeding strategies may be appropriate for some rare breeds and clearly not for others, the results are nonetheless far from conclusive in the case of a number of these breeds. The impact of breeding constraints on the small genetic pool within these breeds needs to be carefully evaluated. Furthermore the extension will allow owners and societies to store genetic material from these animals."

"In recognition of this and of the genetic importance of our native rare breeds, we have commissioned a further, more detailed study. Analysis of this data should assist us in the development of appropriate longer term strategies for rare breeds.

"As a temporary and interim measure therefore, I have concluded in conjunction with Rural Affairs Ministers from Scotland and Wales that 'appeals' under existing NSP Scheme rules against the slaughter requirement for TSE susceptible VRQ rams will be automatically accepted from keepers of recognised rare breeds. The slaughter date will be set at 1 August 2004, giving us ample time to evaluate the research and consult on the way forward. In the meantime however, VRQ rare breed rams benefiting from this extension will not be permitted to breed as part of the NSP".

Since the National Scrapie Plan was launched in July 2001 about 563,846 sheep have been genotyped. So far, the NSP Administration Centre at Worcester has accepted 8,200 members into the NSP, of which 1,341 are keepers of currently recognised rare breeds of sheep.

Notes for editors

1 Scrapie is a fatal neurological disease of sheep. It has been present in the national flock for over 250 years, but is not considered to be transmissible to humans. There is a theoretical risk that BSE is present in sheep in the UK, masked as scrapie, although it has not been found occurring naturally. The National Scrapie Plan addresses the theoretical possibility of BSE being present in sheep.

2 The National Scrapie Plan for Great Britain involves a voluntary, long-term programme of breeding for genetic resistance. It encourages participating flock owners to breed from and use scrapie resistant sheep.

3 Under the current rules, those sheep genotyped and identified as carrying an unacceptable genotype (namely those sheep which carry the VRQ allele (genotype)) are subject to a 14 day slaughter requirement to prevent the spread of their TSE susceptible genes.

4. Rare breeds for the purpose of the National Scrapie Plan are those recognised and categorised by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST).

5 The National Scrapie Plan Administration Centre (NSPAC) will be writing directly to keepers of rare breeds who are currently participating in the NSP to advise them of these temporary arrangements in due course.

6 The National Scrapie Plan is kept under regular review, in the light of scientific and other developments.

7 Results of the NSP/RBST survey were unveiled through a leaflet at the Royal Show last week. The leaflet is available from either the National Scrapie Plan Administration Centre (Tel:0845 601 485) or from the RBST (Tel: 024 7669 6551)

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