Select Committee on Agriculture Memoranda

Memorandum submitted by the Meat and Livestock Commission (R 6)

  MLC is pleased to be able to submit evidence into the Agricultural Select Committee's enquiry regarding Government research into Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs).

  The current MAFF Research Programme includes a commitment to research into TSEs for 2000-01 totalling £13.5 million. The nature of the research programme covers scientific research into areas such as diagnosis, epidemiology, pathogenesis and transmission. Complementary research is being undertaken funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and by other sources of public funds.

  The Food Standards Agency undertook a thorough review of BSE controls during 2000 and made a number of specific recommendations regarding research. MLC were stakeholders in those discussions and would support conclusions of the report which was issued in December 2000.


  There is a clear and urgent need for the development of rapid diagnostic tests which can identify animals incubating TSE diseases but not expressing any clinical symptoms. These tests need to be of sufficient sensitivity to identify animals that could be subclinical carriers.

  The development of validated tests which could be used in the live animal and in the abattoir on carcases to determine the presence or absence of TSEs would be of great value.

  MLC is aware that the three approved EU tests have only been validated on bovine tissue sourced post-mortem from animals which were known to be clinically expressing disease.

  The three tests are the Prionics Check test which is based upon Western Blotting, the Enfer test which is based upon an ELIZA method and the CEA test which is an immunological assay.

  The five tests currently submitted for evaluation by the EU are all post-mortem tests.

  Research into the understanding of differences of TSE prion proteins is also valued. It would be particularly useful to have a test which distinguishes different glyco-form types.


  As members of the Scrapie Information Group, MLC supports the principles of the National Scrapie Plan, the first phases of which have been introduced. This is a long term project which is likely to take in excess of 10 years to come to fruition. This highlights the need for diagnostic tests in the meantime. A key question that must, however, be addressed is whether selection for scrapie resistance confers a potential danger of a carrier state for BSE in sheep. It is, nevertheless, acknowledged that BSE has not been found in sheep other than through experimental transmission in the laboratory.


  MLC understands that the Medical Research Council is currently developing a website which will review TSE public sector funded research being undertaken by MAFF, the Science Research Councils and other public bodies. This approach is welcomed in the interests of openness.


  MLC supports the funding of research in areas such as TSE agent survival in the environment and in the evolution of methods to inactivate the prion protein including the use of high pressure steam and strong alkalis.


  Intra-species testing on tissue infectivity levels in cattle is expensive and time consuming. The opportunity of developing the use of the bovine transgenic mouse to re-visit previous experiments should be actively pursued.

  MLC would welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters at an oral hearing with the Agricultural Select Committee to expand upon the summary contents made.

30 January 2001

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