Mad cow disease: BSE case found on farm in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Investigation underway to determine origin of condition, which has not been seen in country for a decade

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Thursday 18 October 2018 12:13
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What is mad cow disease?

A case of BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease, has been detected on a farm in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, officials have revealed.

A statement issued by Scottish authorities said “precautionary movement restrictions” had been put in place at the farm.

Experts stressed it was a case of classical BSE, so posed no harm to human health.

Investigations are underway to determine the origin of the disease, which has not been seen in Scotland in 10 years.

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “Following confirmation of a case of classical BSE in Aberdeenshire, I have activated the Scottish government’s response plan to protect our valuable farming industry, including establishing a precautionary movement ban being placed on the farm.”

He stressed that this was standard procedure until authorities have a clear idea of where the disease originated.

“Be assured that the Scottish government and its partners stand ready to respond to any further confirmed cases of the disease in Scotland,” he added.

The infected animal did not enter the food chain, and its offspring will now be tracked down and culled.

One or two cases of BSE tend to be diagnosed in the UK each year, and animals over the age of four that die on farms are routinely tested. The last recorded case was in Wales in 2015.

Chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas said: “While it is too early to tell where the disease came from in this case, its detection is proof that our surveillance system is doing its job.”

“We are working closely with the Animal and Plant Health Agency to answer this question, and in the meantime, I would urge any farmer who has concerns to immediately seek veterinary advice.”

Ian McWatt, director of operations in Food Standards Scotland said: “There are strict controls in place to protect consumers from the risk of BSE, including controls on animal feed, and removal of the parts of cattle most likely to carry BSE infectivity.

“Consumers can be reassured that these important protection measures remain in place and that Food Standards Scotland official veterinarians and meat hygiene inspectors working in all abattoirs in Scotland will continue to ensure that in respect of BSE controls, the safety of consumers remains a priority.

“We will continue to work closely with Scottish government, other agencies and industry at this time.”

Mad cow disease was first discovered in the UK in 1986. More than 180,000 cattle were infected when the disease was at its height, and 4.4 million were slaughtered in the eradication programme that followed.

The epidemic in Britain reached its peak in 1993 with almost 1,000 new cases being reported every week, and British beef was subsequently banned in Europe.

However, the disease then spread to other countries, including France and the US.

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The disease is thought to be caused by proteins called prions, and when it is transmitted to humans it is known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. In 1996 strict controls were brought in to stop this spread.

Professor Matthew Baylis, chair of veterinary epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, said “it is too early to say if this case is significant”.

“If it is conventional or ‘typical’ BSE, which is the vast majority of the cases we have seen, then we need to know if it was a very old animal, infected long ago; or if it is younger and there is still a source of infection on the farm, such as a contaminated feed bin,” he said.

“A more likely scenario is that it is an ‘atypical’ form of BSE, which is believed to be sporadic and is not acquired like an infection.

“With effective surveillance, countries without conventional BSE can detect odd cases of atypical BSE, and atypical cases in the UK must be expected.”

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