A report by the European Commission has shown that the incidence of BSE in continental Europe is now higher than in the UK.

Experts are divided however over whether this means that the centre of the epidemic is shifting away from the UK, where the disease was first identified in the 1980s, or if it simply shows that a universal testing method needs to be employed by countries throughout Europe.

The Commission reported that during January of this year, Germany recorded just 16 cases. While the UK officially recorded 22 cases of mad cow disease, there were 43 cases in the Republic of Ireland.

In France, meanwhile, the ban on British beef imports over BSE has not stopped 33 cases being found in the domestic herd.

Across continental Europe as a whole, 111 cases were reported.

The different testing methods of countries have been highlighted as a possible explanation for the spread of the disease.

For example, in France, all animals that die naturally, and animals over 24 months old, are tested for the disease. In the UK, however, all two and a half year old animals are taken out of the food chain in accordance with the Over Thirty Month Scheme although not all are tested.