EFSA considers the risk of TSE transmission via embryo transfer and artificial insemination in small ruminants

In an opinion published today, EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) said that the risk of transmission of Classical scrapie through artificial insemination and embryo transfer in sheep and goats ranges from negligible to low. Experts stressed however, that data are not sufficient to conclude that the risk is negligible.

Because of similarities in the disease development process for Classical scrapie and BSE in small ruminants, experts considered the conclusions for Classical scrapie to be also valid for BSE. They could not assess the risk posed by Atypical scrapie – another Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) – due to lack of knowledge about the developmental process for this particular disease and about the distribution of the infective agent in affected animals.

After reviewing all available scientific information in the field, experts stressed that there is a iatrogenic risk of TSE transmission, that is risk inherent to the artificial insemination and embryo transfer activities themselves; for instance, through the use of animal-derived hormones associated with such procedures. Moreover, in its opinion the BIOHAZ Panel pointed out that the absence of reliable figures on the annual number of artificial inseminations and embryo transfers in small ruminants in the EU hampers the quantitative assessment of the risk of TSE transmission linked to these practices. Experts made some recommendations which could reduce the risk of TSE transmission associated with these reproductive technologies and facilitate future risk assessments in this area. 

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