The UK Food Standard Agency (FSA) is considering banning the use of sheep offal in food products as part of a number of measures designed to combat the risk of vCJD, the human brain disease linked to BSE in cattle.
The FSA set up a stakeholder group in December to investigate the theoretical risk of BSE in sheep and to consider whether any additional safeguards should be recommended.
Although there is still no evidence that sheep can carry BSE - they do suffer from a similar disease called scrapie, but this has not been shown to affect humans - the FSA is expected to introduce measures designed to prevent the disease ever being passed from sheep to humans.
Professor Peter Smith of Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) said the FSA's advisory group would consider banning the use of sheep intestines and lymph nodes in food products, as well as a one-year age restriction on sheep entering the human food chain.
Professor Smith said it was estimated that if an age restriction was introduced, the theoretical risk of ovine BSE entering the food chain would be reduced by 75 per cent. This figure would rise to 95 per cent if intestines and lymph nodes were also removed.
He added that, although the theoretical risk of transfer of BSE from sheep to humans was considered very low, precautionary measures might be extended before evidence for BSE in sheep was found.
The FSA group is due to publish its findings before the end of the month and a public consultation will follow before any policy is undertaken.