Preliminary scientific findings announced by the European Union may lead to restrictions on the consumption of certain parts of sheep, goats and venison because of the discovery that mad cow disease, which has ravaged Britain's beef industry, may be transmissible to those animals.
Britain appears to be taking the first steps to dispose of the infected organs of the animals that theoretically could carry the disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg is to announce in Parliament today new measures to keep parts of those animals out of the human and animal food chain, a spokesman for his office said Tuesday.
The restriction will include a ban on brains, spinal columns and spleens of sheep, goats and deer, according to reports in British newspapers Tuesday.
The European Union is expected to take up the topic after its veterinary experts discuss the issue.
It was the European Union that inspired the British action, however. Franz Fischler, the European Union agriculture commissioner, said Monday that researchers are finding that the disease can be induced in sheep and other animals in a laboratory by giving them feed that includes ground parts of infected cows.
There are no known cases of humans being affected by eating lamb infected with a form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, nor are there any known cases of infection outside experimental settings.
In March, when Britain linked the consumption of beef infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy to the deaths of humans who contracted a similar degenerative brain disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob syndrome, a panic was ignited that led in March to a ban on the exports of British beef.
It is believed that one cause of mad cow disease was animal feed that incorporated ground parts of lambs that were infected with scrapie, a long-familiar fatal disease affecting the nervous systems of sheep. It does not affect humans.
The latest indication, however, is that there may be further connections and that those are associated with certain organs that harbor the infection.
Hogg issued a statement this morning asserting: "What we are dealing with is a theoretical risk. It has been found that it is possible to transmit BSE to sheep, and therefore, out of an abundance of caution, the various advisers have recommended that we exclude various parts of the carcass, which are not actually eaten anyway."