The UK's Food Standards Agency is investigating an apparent failure by the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) to test some casualty cattle aged between 24 and 30 months for BSE before they entered the food chain. 

The FSA said it believes that any risk that might have arisen from these animals entering the food chain without having been tested was minimal. This is because specified risk material (SRM) controls had been applied, which remove at least 99% of any infectivity that may be present, and the fact that no cattle under 30 months have shown clinical BSE symptoms in the UK for eight years.

In addition, there have been no positive results for BSE from more than 2,800 of these casualty cattle tested to date in the UK. Action has been taken to ensure that the testing requirements are now being fully met, the FSA said.

The FSA reported at its public board meeting on 13 May 2004 that five such casualty cattle had entered the food chain without being tested for BSE. Further reports from the MHS now indicate that there could have been around 200 cases since January 2003.

The FSA said steps have been taken to ensure that the testing requirements are now being fully met. Nevertheless, the FSA's chairman, Sir John Krebs, has ordered a full investigation.

"Testing of casualty cattle was introduced to track the level of BSE that may be present and, while the risk is minimal, I consider these apparent failures unacceptable," Krebs said.