Kenneth Calman, chief medical officer, said a committee of scientists had investigated the case of a dairy farmer who died last autumn from Creutzfeldt-Jakob's disease, a related brain disorder, and concluded there was no link with his BSE-infected livestock.
'I wish to emphasise that there is no scientific evidence of a causal link between BSE in cattle and CJD in humans,' Dr Calman said.
David Tyrrell, chairman of the government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, said there was nothing unusual in a dairy farmer developing CJD, a disease that strikes about 30 people in the UK a year.
There are many other occupations, such as butchers and abattoir workers, where people are or were at greater risk yet there are no excesses of CJD in these groups, he said.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said there were signs that the BSE epidemic was beginning 'to plateau' out. She said the rate of increase of confirmed cases was falling. There was an average of about 890 cases of BSE per week in the first nine weeks of this year, compared with about 680 per week in the same period of last year, and about 300 the year before that. The rate of increase of reported cases - when farmers report suspicious symptoms - has declined even faster, the ministry said. There were 8,099 reports in the first nine weeks of this year, compared with 8,581 in the same period of 1992, and 4,407 in 1991 - a rate of increase that has fallen from 84 per cent to 6 per cent.