Plans to Eradicate Scrapie Over 20 Years Skip to content

Plans to Eradicate Scrapie Over 20 Years

By Erik Pomrenke

Icelandic sheep
Photo: Photo: Golli. Sheep in Iceland. .
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Hótel Breiðdalsvík

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, Minister of Food, Hrönn Ólína Jörundsdóttir, the Director of the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, and Trausti Hjálmarsson, the Chairman of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association, signed a national plan for the eradication of scrapie yesterday, July 8. The plan aims to end scrapie, a deadly disease in sheep, over the next 20 years by placing a greater emphasis on artificial insemination in order to cultivate a population with genotypes resistant to the disease. Morgunblaðið reports.

Costs of scrapie in Iceland

Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the nervous systems of sheep. Scrapie is characterized by intense itching (leading to the scraping behavior that gives the disease its name), loss of coordination, behavioral changes, and ultimately, death. The disease is caused by prions, which are abnormal, infectious proteins.

Scrapie has had significant economic repercussions for Iceland’s sheep farming industry. Infected flocks often need to be culled to prevent the spread of the disease, leading to substantial financial losses for farmers. This includes the loss of livestock, decreased productivity, and costs associated with disease control measures. The necessity of culling infected sheep has also been devastating for individual farmers. Many have faced the emotional and financial strain of losing entire flocks, sometimes repeatedly, which can result in a significant impact on rural communities and farming sustainability.

Read more: Good Breeding

Regarding the agreement reached yesterday, Bjarkey stated “I am just extremely pleased that we have finally reached this point. It is long, long overdue that this is happening.” She continued, saying: “Of course, it has been incredibly sad to witness for so many years and decades when it has been necessary to cull sheep on rural farms and see farmers lose everything.”

“The plan is for 20 years but will be reviewed annually, and I believe that farmers are very eager to participate in this and are, of course, already starting […] so I hope that we can achieve this even sooner than planned,” she stated.

Bjarkey also reminded the press that measures to combat scrapie have also been ongoing for some time, with artificial insemination of sheep with scrapie-resistant genes being practiced for some time now.

“It is starting to bear fruit, and we are already identifying more genotypes that are being further researched, which will hopefully help speed up the process,” the Minister said.

The Minister also highlighted that the agreement would also represent a significant savings for the state in the long run: “It costs money to pay compensation to farmers involved in this. It costs money to rebuild the livestock, and it costs money to fence in sheep.”

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