Only 76 out of 1.7 million healthy cattle test positive to date

The latest results of BSE tests conducted on healthy cattle across the EU are encouraging and tend to indicate that there is no massive, hidden BSE epidemic in Europe, Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, said today.

At the end of April this year, only 76 healthy animals had tested positively out of a total of 1.7 million healthy animals tested throughout the EU during the first four months of this year.

Sir John said: "BSE rightly remains the food issue of most concern to consumers, and they want to know what is being done to protect them. They also want to be able to make informed decisions on buying beef.

"The spread of BSE through Europe has raised consumer concern. The EU programme of testing animals destined for the food chain shows a very low level of BSE cases. The figures are encouraging, and tend to indicate that there is no massive, hidden epidemic of BSE in Europe but we cannot be complacent. That is why the Food Standards Agency continues with 100 per cent checks on imported beef; why we will not tolerate any breaches of the BSE controls, and why we will examine any new evidence rigorously."

Sir John said that a new leaflet being launched today - with Consumers' Association support - was an important step forward in providing information direct to consumers.

The 76 healthy animals which tested positively were in Spain (22 positives from 73,859 tested); France (21 from 623,349); Germany (13 from 613,550); Belgium (10 from 97,311); Italy (7 from 64,351); Holland (2 from 97,794), and the Republic of Ireland (1 from 71,699). No positives were reported out of the 30 healthy animals tested in Great Britain.

The leaflet, entitled "BSE & Beef", describes the BSE controls (which are designed to reduce the risks from BSE to an extremely low level) and lists the European countries that have reported cases of BSE and those currently thought unlikely to have BSE. It also explains the various labels that can be found on beef, including the Health Mark, which shows that the beef has been processed in premises specially licensed for that purpose. It answers some basic questions, and gives details of where to go for further information. In addition, a more detailed leaflet is also available, "BSE: a Food Standards Agency Guide", which explains what is currently known about BSE.

Sue Davies, Principal Policy Adviser at Consumers' Association, said: "BSE may still be a worry for many consumers - whilst controls in the UK to make sure BSE doesn't enter the food chain are thorough, questions still remain. Is there a risk from eating beef from outside the UK, for example? This leaflet will answer many questions about beef safety, and provide sources for further information so consumers can make informed choices when they're buying beef."