Over 500 calves born to cows infected with BSE are still awaiting slaughter, in direct contravention of the BSE regulations.

The administration and implementation of the BSE slaughter programme had been held up by the foot and mouth crisis, explained a spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The revelation follows the news on Monday that meat from the calf of a cow infected with BSE had entered the food chain. (For more information on this, click here). The meat is unlikely to harm consumers as the most dangerous parts of the animal will have been removed, but the incident has further dented public confidence in meat safety.

DEFRA has largely been unable to reassure consumers as it said it could not offer a watertight guarantee that no more of the 536 animals awaiting culling had slipped through the net.

Animals traced back to BSE-infected cows have their passports seized to prevent their movement, and farmers are served with restriction orders, but in some cases it has evidently taken some time for this to be enforced.

The National Farmers' Union said the incident was "regrettable" called for the backlog of BSE offspring to be slaughtered as soon as possible.