A suspected case of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in a goat slaughtered in France in 2002 has been confirmed by a panel of European scientists.

The European Commission has proposed to step up testing to determine if this is an isolated incident. Although this is the first time that BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease, has been found in a goat under natural conditions, precautionary measures to protect consumers from this eventuality have been applied in the EU for several years.

The level of TSE (transmissible spongiform encephalopathy) infection in goats seems however to be extremely low and any possible risk to consumers is minimal, the Commission said. TSEs are transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, namely BSE affecting cattle and scrapie affecting goats and sheep.

"This case was discovered thanks to the EU testing system in place in France. The testing programme has shown us that there is a very low incidence rate of TSEs in goats and allowed us to detect suspect animals so that they can be taken out of the food chain, as was done with this goat and its entire herd. I am proposing to extend testing further to determine whether this is an isolated incident," said Markos Kyprianou, EU commissioner for health and consumer protection.

The infected goat was born in March 2000 and slaughtered in France in October 2002. The results are only now becoming available as the series of confirmatory tests included testing on mice, which takes two years to complete. The goat and its herd were disposed in accordance with EU rules and did not enter either the food or feed chain. The goat was the only one in its herd of 300 goats to develop BSE. Over 140,000 goats have been tested across Europe since April 2002.