Comments on the

Transmissable Spongiform Encephalopathy (England) Regulations 2002

SI 843

 

Relevant extracts of document SI 843 at http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/bse/tsereg2002.pdf

 

(from page 117) includes giving the Minister and his "officials" powers to

1.       (i) seize any TSE susceptible animal

2.       (j) give any direction under regulation 83 below

3.       (k) serve any notice in connection with the slaughter of any TSE susceptible animal

4.       (l) slaughter any TSE susceptible animal from page 119

5.       80.- (1) This regulation applies where an inspector is satisfied that for any purpose connected with the administration or enforcement of Chapter IV of the Community TSE Regulation it is necessary to prohibit or restrict the movement of any TSE susceptible animal, whether or not the animal is suspected of being affected by a TSE, from or to any premises...."

 

"Livestock" means any creature other than a dog kept for use in the farming of the land, and also any equine animal. "

 

Comments from Janet Bradshaw and Sheila Crispin

 

On February 12th 2002, a meeting was held by the National Sheep Association in order to discuss the National Scrapie Plan (NSP). During the meeting it was made clear by the Minister for Animal Health, Mr Elliot Morley, that the Government's goal was to achieve scrapie-free status for the UK and that although the NSP is currently voluntary it would become compulsory. He indicated that this would happen through measures outlined in the Animal Health Bill. When the Animal Health Bill failed to reach Committee stage in the House of Lords it became apparent that the government would seek to achieve its aims by other means and now seek to enforce their measures in England by Statutory Instrument (SI 843).

 

Hilary Gates, speaking for the Science Directorate of DEFRA, indicated that the primary concern of the government was not so much elimination of scrapie from the National Flock, as elimination of the potential threat of BSE in sheep. However, despite a range of different tests and experimental investigations there is to date no evidence of natural BSE infection in sheep. Ms Gates indicated that should BSE ever be identified in sheep, no sheep meat would be able to enter the food chain and there is every possibility that the Government would seek to slaughter the entire National Flock.

 

The NSP aims to identify and select sheep that carry genotypes considered to provide resistance to scrapie infection / disease. Animals not possessing these genotypes would have to be culled or removed from breeding programmes. However, it has been shown by individual breed societies that scrapie resistance can exist without the approved genotype being present (Swaledales), and in some breeds there are so few sheep (Herdwick, British Milksheep and North Ronaldsay) with the approved genotype that the breed could become extinct if this policy is pursued. Furthermore, strong selection for one particular genotype is likely to select adversely against other characteristics and reduce the genetic diversity that is such an important survival characteristic. The United Kingdom provides a diverse range of habitats and climates to which the different breeds have become adapted in unique ways which enable their survival. Selection pressures based on scrapie resistance have resulted in reduced ability of Shetland sheep to survive on the hills. Other characteristics, such as production traits or susceptibility to other diseases such as foot rot, are likely to be similarly affected, leading to poorer health and welfare.

 

Whilst there is a body of knowledge concerning genetic factors relating to scrapie resistance in sheep, much less is known about BSE resistance in sheep, apart from limited experimental studies. It is neither safe nor scientific to extrapolate from one transmissible spongiform encephalopathy to another. As already indicated for Swaledale sheep, factors other than genotype are also likely to play a part.

 

Sheep producers / farmers are under increasing pressure to join the NSP so that they may be able to market their sheep meat as scrapie-free in the future. Once the scheme becomes compulsory they will have no choice in the matter. The powers provided by SI843 are alarming and appear to lack scientific credence. An inspector will have the right to enter premises where they believe there are, or may have been, TSE susceptible animals in order to examine, take samples, seize or slaughter any such animals. (Section 4). As it is not possible currently to diagnose TSE in live animals it is hard to see the justification for taking samples under these circumstances. Genotyping may indicate potential resistance or sensitivity but does not confirm disease presence.

 

Furthermore, it is germane to ask what samples can be taken, or investigations made, in a premise to indicate that an animal with evidence of TSE was previously kept there? (Section 4, b ii). It is axiomatic that if environmental contamination was a feature of TSE the levels of disease within and between species would be markedly increased.

 

On what grounds, scientific or otherwise, will the inspector base the decision to take samples and what is the range of those samples? Will the inspector be competent to handle and sample an animal? There are already some alarming reports of poor blood sampling techniques and deaths related to bolus administration of the identifying microchip. On what grounds and in what manner may an animal be seized and / or slaughtered by an inspector?

 

On the issue of slaughter it is not clear how the decision will be reached as to whether an animal is moved to a slaughter house for slaughter or killed on the farm (Section 6 and 7). If the animal were considered unfit to travel for slaughter, then it would seem to be contravening animal welfare regulations to delay it as provided for by the issuing of a notice (Section 7.1). In addition, Section 7.3 implies that slaughter may be delayed further, depending on the requirements of the annual monitoring programme.

 

In summary:-

7         There is currently no evidence of naturally occurring BSE in sheep.

7         Scrapie has been present in sheep for many hundreds of years. It seems odd that this historic disease must suddenly be dealt with in this precipitate and unscientific fashion.

7         Selecting for scrapie-resistant genotypes is not necessarily the correct approach to controlling scrapie and certainly cannot be extended to controlling the theoretical risk of BSE in sheep.

7         To allow inspectors the right to forcibly enter premises, on possibly tenuous grounds, to take samples or even slaughter animals and to threaten those sheep keepers who object with imprisonment and fines is taking control measures to excessive levels with clear infringement of animal welfare and personal liberties.

7         It would appear that DEFRA and its Government Ministers has learnt nothing from the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic, in which huge numbers of healthy hefted sheep were slaughtered unnecessarily. (Note: DEFRA has agreed figures from the Meat and Livestock Commision that put the number of animals slaughtered during the foot and mouth epidemic in excess of 10 million). The latest quote from Elliot Morley to farmers in the North of England does, to some extent, explain the Government’s perverse approach “You people have got to realize that we do not need your sheep. We can import all the meat we need”.

7        The contribution of breeds like the Herdwick and Swaledale to the beautiful environment of the Lake District is crucial, most sheep breeds are not hardy enough to prosper on the Lakeland fells, so how does the Government intend to maintain this unique environment if they kill off locally adapted hefted sheep?

7         The Government is incorrect to assert that SI843 is in line with EU regulations. EU regulations currently in force apply to animals with disease, or suspected of having disease, not to animals susceptible to disease. The European Regulations talk about monitoring of animals that are already TSE infected; the SI insists on slaughter of TSE susceptible animals.

7         These comments also apply to other species in which TSE has been reported, for example, cats, as feline spongiform encephalopathy (a feline TSE) has been reported in this species. There is likely to be a conflict of interest between the provisions of the draft Animal Welfare Bill and SI 843.

7          ‘New Labour – New Life for Animals’ (Labour Party manifesto, 1997) rings hollow. By any measure, and to their utter shame, New Labour has comprehensively failed to treat farm livestock - and their owners - with the compassion that should be the norm in a civilised society.

Brief biographical details

 

Janet Bradshaw BVSc, BSc, MRCPath, MRCVS

I am a qualified veterinary surgeon with 14 years experience of both general practice and veterinary pathology. In 1999 I gained Membership of the Royal College of Pathologists. In addition I am a small-scale sheep farmer and Vice Chairman of the British Coloured Sheep Breeders Association.

In 1990 I diagnosed the first case of Feline Spongiform Encephalopathy in the world and I have subsequently been involved in further investigations relating to this Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE). I have also been employed by MAFF (now DEFRA) in work with cattle affected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

 

Sheila Crispin MA, VetMB, BSc, PhD, DVA, DVOphthal, DipECVO, FRCVS

I was brought up in Cumbria and qualified from the University of Cambridge in 1972. After a short period of mixed, mainly large animal, practice in Cumbria I returned to Cambridge to work in ophthalmology and as House Surgeon (large and small animal medicine and surgery) to the Veterinary School. Numerous veterinary locums with the Scottish Highlands and Islands Veterinary Service whilst at Cambridge and during the early years of a lectureship in the Department of Veterinary Surgery at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Edinburgh. Obtained PhD for thesis on lipid keratopathy in the dog by part time study whilst lecturing at the University of Edinburgh.

I am a Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) by meritorious contributions to learning and a University of Bristol representative on the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Also a diplomat of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in Veterinary Anaesthesia and Veterinary Ophthalmology and of the European College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. I am a recognised European specialist in Veterinary Ophthalmology and an Associate Member of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. Currently Reader in Comparative Ophthalmology at the University of Bristol.

I have specialist knowledge of the environment, wildlife, conservation and livestock farming, especially hill sheep farming. Previous livestock enterprises (beef cattle and sheep) in Cumbria and Scotland. Presently farm 5 hectares in an environmentally sensitive region of Somerset under the Government’s Country Stewardship Scheme. I worked in the licensing section of MAFF, as it then was, over Easter 2001 and was involved in licensing the movements of healthy livestock on farms under Foot and Mouth Form D regulations.