Atypical scrapie/Nor 98 detection in single sheep from the national flock

28 October 2009

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) today confirmed that a series of New Zealand and European laboratory tests on a single New Zealand sheep brain have detected the condition atypical scrapie (also known as Nor 98).

Atypical scrapie/Nor 98 is a relatively recently discovered brain condition of sheep and goats that is quite different from the classical form of scrapie.

Neither atypical scrapie/Nor 98 nor scrapie is known to pose any risk to human health or the safety of eating meat or animal products.

MAFBNZ Principal International Adviser Dr Stuart MacDiarmid says global knowledge about atypical scrapie/Nor 98 is evolving. The widely accepted mainstream scientific view is that it occurs spontaneously or naturally in very small numbers of older sheep in all sheep populations around the world.

"This positive detection of atypical scrapie/Nor 98 in a sheep from New Zealand's national flock reinforces that view. Every country that has conducted sufficient surveillance for atypical scrapie/Nor 98 has found it in their flocks. This includes most Scandinavian and EU countries, the UK, the USA and Canada," he says.

The detection does not change New Zealand's status as free from scrapie.

Dr MacDiarmid says because of this scrapie freedom status, New Zealand supplies sheep brains to the European Union for use in the development of tests for scrapie.

"The affected brain was one of a consignment of 200 brains sent for this purpose. EU-authorised tests carried out in New Zealand prior to shipment had not picked up anything unusual. However further tests in Europe and re-testing in New Zealand on different parts of the brain from the area originally tested have now established a diagnosis of atypical scrapie/Nor 98.

There is no evidence that atypical scrapie/Nor 98 can be transmitted naturally to other animals or to people, or that it in any way affects people.

The NZFSA's Principal Advisor (Public Health) Dr Donald Campbell says that NZFSA agrees with the UK Food Standards Agency advice that there is no reason for people to change their eating habits or stop eating lamb or mutton (sheep meat) and goat meat or products derived from these animals.

Given the accepted view that the condition occurs spontaneously and is not thought to be infectious between sheep, MAFBNZ expects the follow-up actions to be limited to collaborative international research designed to better understand how the condition develops.

Full FAQ's on atypical scrapie/Nor 98 are on the MAFBNZ website.

For further information please contact

  • MAFBNZ - Lesley Patston, Senior Communications Adviser, 04 894 0163 or 029 894 0163
  • NZFSA - Gary Bowering, Manager (Communications), 04 894 2532 or 029 894 2532

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