Seanad Éireann - Volume 171 - 18 February, 2003
Adjournment Matters. - Scrapie Genotyping Project.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: It was the sad death, at such an early age, of Dolly, the first cloned sheep, that made me think of the issue of scrapie because I was very interested in the scheme set up by the Minister for Agriculture and Food last year. Scrapie is a fatal degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. It is one of the diseases classified as transmissable spongiform encephalopathies. Infected flocks which contain a high percentage of susceptible animals can experience significant production losses. There has been increased attention paid to scrapie, which has been known for more than 250 years, since the link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people and feline spongiform encephalopathy in cats became known in the recent past.
The cause of scrapie is not definitely known. It could be a small virus or prion but it is known that some sheep are less susceptible to infection than others. With advances in genetics, the genotype of those sheep can be ascertained and efforts made to ensure these are the flocks where breeding for the national flock is promoted. Wisely, the Minister for Agriculture and Food announced a programme on the genotyping of sheep last July. This programme, which is voluntary, requires the genotyping and identification of resistant animals and the tracking of their movement off-farm. If we could say the national flock was scrapie free, it would be a splendid selling point in the promotion of the sale of our lamb, both at home and abroad. I would be glad if the Minister of State would tell me what progress is being made on this important issue.
Senator Quinn brought up a related issue on the Order of Business today. Seeing that the removal of the subsidy for the export of meat and bonemeal to renderers who destroy all the offal and bone from potentially infected animals is imminent, can the Minister of State tell me what it is proposed can be done with this material? There is no sale for it here, we have no incinerator in which to burn it and could have to resort to very expensive storage again.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: I am not sure the last item raised by the Senator can properly be dealt with during the debate on the Adjournment.
Mr. Aylward Mr. Aylward
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Aylward): I appreciate the fact that Senator Henry has raised this matter and given me the opportunity of addressing it. I immediately take her point on meat and bonemeal, an issue debated in the Dáil last week and at which the Government is looking as it has cost the State a substantial amount of money. We export more than 90% of our agricultural produce and have got into marketplaces abroad because of our disease free reputation. We have looked at the different options and the matter is of grave concern to me. I have initiated an investigation which is ongoing in the Department.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: I thank the Minister of State.
Mr. Aylward Mr. Aylward
Mr. Aylward: Senators will be aware that the profile of scrapie increased dramatically in recent years because of its possible association with BSE. While scrapie is a disease of sheep without any known human health dimension, it is also one of a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, TSEs, of which BSE is a member.
While there is no evidence that sheep can be infected with BSE under natural conditions, we do know that sheep injected with BSE material under experimental conditions exhibited clinical symptoms which were almost identical to scrapie. We also know that scientists in Europe are working on the development of differential tests which would distinguish between the scrapie and BSE agents and that such tests, although not yet finally approved by the EU scientific steering committee, are being used to test scrapie positive samples in the United Kingdom for BSE.
Against this background and in the absence of any horizontal measures for dealing with the disease at EU level, the priority accorded in Ireland to dealing with scrapie increased over the past two years. We have adopted a multi-strand policy involving depopulation of infected flocks, active surveillance and a scrapie genotyping experiment with a limited number of flocks.
In relation to genotyping, my Department has been aware for some time that the degree of susceptibility to scrapie appears to be linked to genotype and of the possibility that programmes for breeding for resistance might be used as a strategy against the disease. This issue has been the subject of considerable debate at the EU scientific steering committee, where there was some doubt as to whether genetic resistance simply meant that the resistant animals, though carrying the infective agent, did not exhibit clinical symptoms.
I am pleased to say that from a policy perspective the debate at EU level has now developed with the promulgation of regulations requiring member states to conduct a genetic survey of native pedigree breeds by 1 October 2003, to put voluntary breeding programmes in place for such breeds by 1 January 2004 and allowing, with effect from 1 October 2003, for strategies for dealing with infected flocks ranging from full depopulaton with a prohibition on using the land for sheep for a period of three years, to genotyping and partial depopulation of flocks.
My Department is making arrangements for the provision of a genotyping service for pedigree breeders, in particular. A gene sequencer has been purchased and staff have been engaged to assist with the commissioning of the machine and the verification of the techniques to be used. This process involved the testing of samples and liaison with the laboratory of the Government chemist in the United Kingdom and the Government laboratory in the Netherlands to ensure consistency of results. On the operational side, work is proceeding on the development of appropriate literature, certificates and a database to record applications and results and monitor the movements of animals with resistant genotypes. In this regard also, I am aware that a commercial operator is involved in developing arrangements for the provision of a genotyping service. This is something I welcome and which would be of great assistance to the Department.
We have written to pedigree breed societies to obtain information for a database of pedigree flocks in the country and will shortly be in a position to commence the survey of each pedigree native breed required under the new EU regulations. As well as fulfilling the requirements of the new regulations, this survey will provide a valuable mechanism for validating the operational systems in place and ironing out any logistical problems.
Substantial progress has been made, therefore, in the preparations for a genotyping programme. I will consult the farming community, as I do on a regular basis, and keep farmers and other interested parties, including this House, informed of further progress in the coming weeks. I hope I will soon have progress to report. Although I come from an agricultural background, this is a matter of which I was not keenly aware and which is new to most in the Department. We hear of new diseases on a daily basis. We must undertake the necessary research before we can put in place the operations necessary to deal with them. What we have done heretofore has been successful. We have to protect the reputation of our food industry and, given that we export more than 90%, that is what is most important to all.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: I thank the Minister of State. I am pleased the Department is making such progress in this area.
Seanad Éireann 171 Adjournment Matters. Scrapie Genotyping Project.