Live monkeys are to be used in controversial experiments designed to glean "valuable information" about BSE.

The EU's Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) gave its consent to a series of tests to be carried out on monkeys, but the European Commission allegedly took steps to keep the decision secret. According to the Observer newspaper, the EC contravened new rules about public access to information by failing to issue a press release on the issue and burying the news on "an obscure Internet page".

The SSC, the EU's most powerful scientific body, is hoping that by feeding monkeys brain matter from French and British cows infected with BSE, it will be able to understand better how humans can contract vCJD.

News of the experiments has outraged animal rights campaigners however, many of whom point out that the research conducted on chimps is misleading when applied to the human anatomy.

Sarah Kite, information director at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), told the Observer: "At a time when the moral justification for using primates is being questioned this is a backward step."