ECONOMY

Risks of BSE in goats

BRUSSELS – The world’s first case of mad cow disease found in a goat poses only a minimal risk to human health and the brain-wasting affliction is unlikely to jump species to sheep, officials said yesterday. Last week, the European Commission announced that a French goat slaughtered in 2002 had bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the first time the disease has been found in animals other than cattle, raising fears it could jump next to sheep. «Sheep and goats are different species,» said Commission food safety spokesman Philip Tod. «We have tested over one million sheep and have yet to detect a single case.» Before tests confirmed the presence of BSE, scientists had thought the French goat had contracted scrapie: a disease from the same family as BSE that affects both sheep and goats. There have also been fears that scrapie may mask BSE in sheep. «The occurrence of BSE in a goat does not mean anything specifically for sheep,» International Manager of Britain’s Meat and Livestock Commission Peter Hardwick told Reuters. «There is room for comfort but not for complacency,» he said. Sheep have been cross-bred intensively for years in order to resist scrapie, which has never been done for goats, he added. The Commission, the EU’s executive arm, wants to test 200,000 goats for BSE in the next six months, focusing on countries which are already fighting the disease among cattle. The EU is home to some 11.6 million goats with the largest herds in France, Greece and Spain, primarily reared for dairy items such as milk, yogurt and cheese with little meat consumed. Goat milk still safe The panic surrounding Europe’s outbreaks of mad cow disease in the 1980s and 1990s is still fresh in many minds – more than 100 people died from BSE’s human form after eating tainted beef. BSE was caused by feeding cattle with the diseased parts of other cattle. Since that time, Europe has tightened its food safety rules to limit the risks. According to the EU’s food safety authority EFSA, dairy products made from goat’s milk would be unlikely to pose a risk for human health if the milk came from a healthy animal. Under EU food safety rules, milk and meat from a goat that is infected with BSE or scrapie may not be used in food products. The same rule applies to sheep that are scrapie-positive. Tod said the French BSE goat was reared before the full entry into force of EU rules banning the use of animal parts in feed and removing high-risk material such as the spinal chord, intestines and brain from the food and feed chain. Most goats alive now would have been born after the total feed ban entered effect in 2001, he added.