NICOSIA (AFP) – An EU court ruling for Cyprus to cull as many as a quarter of its goat and sheep population infected with the scrapie disease could drive many farmers to ruin, officials warned yesterday. Agriculture Minister Fotis Fotiou said the EU First Instance Court ruled last month in favor of a French appeal that effectively prohibits human consumption of scrapie-infected herds. That means Cyprus authorities would have to slaughter an estimated 116,000 scrapie-infected sheep and goats of a total population of 430,000 animals. «We are talking about a great number of (affected) farms, 400 to 500. No other country is affected to such a high percentage,» the minister told reporters. Fotiou said there has been no formal word from the EU to proceed with the cull, adding that he would consult with Brussels to see if he could clinch a postponement. «Our priority is to make sure there is no risk to public health (but) we do not want the sector to suffer. It’s our goal to support the sector,» the minister said. The ruling has spread fear among Cypriot herders who warn of financial ruin for many if the cull goes ahead. «Many families will be left without an income,» sheep and goat breeders’ association spokesman Spyros Leventis said, insisting local herds pose no risk to human health if consumed. Leventis blamed government authorities for failing to spot and eradicate a scrapie-infected herd of goats purchased from Germany that spread the disease 15 years ago. He said if that the cull does go ahead, farmers will demand more than 56 pounds (96 euros) as compensation from the government for each head of goat or sheep lost. Scrapie belongs to a family of fatal diseases of the brain known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) that include mad cow disease.