Mad cow disease: More animals to be destroyed as chief vet insists 'no need to panic'

Inspectors work to establish source of fatal disease, which has not been seen in Scotland for a decade

Samuel Osborne
Friday 19 October 2018 12:16
What is mad cow disease?

More cows will need to be destroyed after a new case of BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease, was detected on a farm in Scotland.

Scotland’s chief veterinary officer has insisted there is “no need to panic” after the disease was identified at the unnamed farm in Aberdeenshire.

A quarantine area has been put in place around the farm while inspectors work to establish the source of the fatal disease, known in full as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.

Medical experts have stressed that the case poses no harm to human health. Any farmers with concerns have been advised to seek immediate veterinary advice.

Chief vet Sheila Voas said up to four other cows on the farm will be slaughtered and tested for the disease.

Speaking to the BBC, she said: “The animal itself is dead, she died before she was tested, and there are three other animals, or possibly four, that will need to be slaughtered purely from a precautionary basis.”

She said brain stem samples would be taken from the animals and tested for BSE.

She believed the disease was not transmitted and occurred spontaneously in the affected animal, but warned it could be several months before investigators could say for certain.

“All the information we have is this is under control, there’s no reason for people to panic,” she added.

“It is not the start of an outbreak, it is a single isolated case that won’t affect the food chain.”

Scotland’s rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing, has activated a government response plan to protect the farming industry.

He said: “While it is important to stress that this is standard procedure until we have a clear understanding of the disease’s origin, this is further proof that our surveillance system for detecting this type of disease is working.”

Mad cow disease was first detected in the UK in 1986 and spread to other parts of Europe, ravaging cattle herds until the early 2000s.

More than 180,000 cattle were infected at its height, and 4.4 million were slaughtered in the eradication programme.

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Britain’s beef exports were banned by many countries after the initial outbreak, and in some cases it took years before the measures were lifted. China only lifted its ban on British beef earlier this year.

The disease can be passed to humans in the food chain, causing a fatal condition called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or vCJD.

It has been reduced to a handful of cases each year in the UK. The last recorded case was in Wales in 2015.

Before the discovery of the latest case, Scotland had been free of BSE since 2009.

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