An urgent appeal went out to European governments yesterday to step up testing for BSE because of concern about "disturbing" levels of the disease in France.

An urgent appeal went out to European governments yesterday to step up testing for BSE because of concern about "disturbing" levels of the disease in France.

A plea from David Byrne, the European commissioner for health and consumer protection, advised member states to speed up the introduction of random testing.

The testing will become compulsory next year, but Mr Byrne urged national authorities not to wait until then, particularly for animals considered most at risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Mr Byrne said in a statement: "The detection by the French authorities of an increased incidence of BSE is clearly disturbing. France's improved surveillance measures have increased the number of cases detected.

"All member states must learn from the French experience and also improve their surveillance measures for the detection of the disease."

He called on member states to "carry out many more tests than legally required" and added: "Such tests cannot serve as a substitute for the strict [European] Community controls to prevent the risk of transmission of BSE."

Mr Byrne also encouraged the rigorous implementation of controls, on the removal of specified risk materials; the processing of animal waste; the ban on the feeding of mammalian meat and bone meal to ruminants; and the detection of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE).

"Increased testing will further improve transparency and public information on BSE. This is crucial to instil confidence that the controls in place are effective in protecting the public from the disease," he said.

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