| October 27, 2001 | 0 Comments

By Jim Webster

There is a limit to what sheep farmers should be allowed to suffer. Whatever it is … they have just been pushed over that limit by actions of almost blinding stupidity on the part of the British government.

Scientists at the government-funded Institute for Animal Health in Edinburgh were paid 217,000 pound over five years to test sheep brains for traces of BSE. Sheep in the UK can carry scrapie which is a sheep spongiform encephalopathy and the fear has been expressed that scrapie might hide BSE.

At one time the theory was that BSE in cattle was scrapie which has spread from sheep and might spread back in a more dangerous form.

While it seems pretty certain now that scrapie isn’t the cause of BSE, the worry lingers on. So the Edinburgh scientists spent five years testing sheep brain paste, which was taken some years ago from sheep which died of scrapie. Indeed there were leaks from the experiment and everyone knew that they were getting worried by their findings.

Government spin doctors had started stories that we might have to wipe out the entire sheep flock, then there were tales that the Food Standard Agency (FSA) had draft regulations ready which could be rushed through to ban the sale of sheep meat produced in the UK.

Then, barely days before the announcement was to be made, a government minister released the news (at 10:30pm) that the researchers had been studying cattle brain all the time. The EU is furious as a Minister of agriculture was in a meeting with her EU colleagues that very day and never breathed a word.

As you can well imagine the annoyance of sheep farmers is as nothing to the anger of researchers such as Chris Bostock who, worried by the results, had checked with the Ministry to ensure that there was no possibility of bovine contamination. He got a reassuring message back saying that checks had been made and no contamination had been found.

Then a few days ago someone realised that the brain paste sent for testing wasn’t contaminated with bovine material, it was entirely bovine material.

Never let it be said that government employees cannot make a bad situation worse. The FSA hastily announced that there was no evidence of risk from eating sheep meat and coupled this announcement by saying that those companies making baby food had a voluntary agreement only to use lamb from New Zealand because they do not have scrapie.

“News to us” said the baby food manufacturers, who cheerfully pointed out that if they used New Zealand lamb it was because it was cheapest at the time.

Me, I’m just a simple farm boy but if a government spokesman starts a briefing by saying “Good Day,” I look out of the window to check before deciding whether to put a jacket on or not.

Category: Focus

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