Testing after French mad goat turns up Scottish suspect

LONDON, UK, February 9, 2005 (ENS): A goat in Scotland, diagnosed as having the fatal brain disease scrapie in 1990, may instead have had bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, UK government officials said Tuesday. The finding means that BSE may have been widespread in goats in the past, and may be present in goats today.

Scientists at the UK Veterinary Laboratories Agency found the BSE infected goat sample during expanded testing following last month's discovery of BSE in a goat from France, the first goat known to have been infected with the disease.

The Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) had been checking to determine whether methods developed to discriminate between scrapie and BSE in sheep could also differentiate these diseases in a goat.

Tests done with more sensitive methods have found the Scottish sample had traits similar to samples from goats experimentally infected with BSE, the lab said.

The goat appears to have originated from premises in Scotland, said the Department for the Environment, Food And Rural Affairs. "Investigations have revealed that the original keeper is no longer in business at these premises."

Researchers from the VLA have been asked to carry out tests to follow up these initial findings. The single result, using just one test method, is insufficient to confirm that the goat had BSE, and further rapid molecular methods to discriminate BSE and scrapie cannot be applied because no frozen tissues are available.

Further tests will now be carried out, but this will take one to two years, at the earliest, to complete, lab officials say.

"It is important to put this initial finding into context, said Debby Reynolds, chief veterinary officer for the Department for The Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

"It dates back to 1990 which was at the height of the BSE outbreak in cattle and before the reinforced feed ban was introduced in 1996," she said. "This means that there is a distinct possibility that the animal, if infected with BSE, was exposed to contaminated feed."

"In light of the recent case of BSE in a goat from France, the European Commission says it is important to perform increased surveillance on goats on a European-wide basis to establish the current incidence of TSEs in the goat population. In line with this, DEFRA will be stepping up its TSE surveillance program for goats."

Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. It is among a number of diseases classified as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) characterized by a degeneration of brain tissue giving a sponge-like appearance.

These TSEs spread from one animal to another by consumption of feed that has been contaminated by animal protein, such as meat and bone meal, containing nervous system tissue from an infected animal.

TSEs, such as scrapie, mad cow disease and its human form, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), are spread by prions - abnormally shaped proteins that originate as regular components of neurological tissues in animals - they are not cellular organisms or viruses.

A suspected case of BSE in a goat slaughtered in France in 2002 was confirmed January 28 by a panel of European scientists.

The goat was slaughtered in France in October 2002, but results are only now becoming available because extensive tests were been carried out, including the mouse bioassay which takes two years to complete, European Commission officials said.

There is minimal risk to public health as the goat in question and its entire herd were disposed of and did not enter the food or feed chain. The case was detected as part of the EU wide surveillance program designed to detect suspicious TSE strains in goats and sheep.

Although this is the first time that BSE has been found in a goat under natural conditions, precautionary measures to protect consumers from this eventuality have been applied in the EU for several years, said the European Commission.

Markos Kyprianou, EU Commissioner responsible for Health and Consumer Protection, said, "I want to reassure consumers that existing safety measures in the EU offer a very high level of protection."

"This case was discovered thanks to the EU testing system in place in France," Kyprianou said. "The testing program has shown us that there is a very low incidence rate of TSEs in goats and allowed us to detect suspect animals so that they can be taken out of the food chain, as was done with this goat and its entire herd. I am proposing to extend testing further to determine whether this is an isolated incident."

The Commission is proposing increased testing for BSE among goats for at least six months - 200,000 tests of healthy goats in the EU - to determine if this is an isolated incident.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has advised that based on current scientific knowledge, goat milk and derived products are unlikely to present any risk of TSE contamination if the milk comes from healthy animals.

The European Commission has asked EFSA to carry out a quantitative risk assessment for goat meat and goat meat products, which is expected to be ready by July 2005.

DEFRA will be asking the UK Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee for their comments on this finding at their meeting on March 3.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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