The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said it has been informed by the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that a sample, reportedly taken from a Scottish goat that died in 1990, has shown that the goat may have had BSE, or mad cow disease.

Archived tissues from this animal were recently tested by Defra's Veterinary Laboratory Agency but confirmation of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) requires further tests and these will take up to two years.

The FSA said few if any goats from 1990 are likely to still be alive today and BSE has not been found in the current UK goat population. However, the agency warned that it may be possible for BSE in goats to pass down through the generations and the current precautionary controls would not remove all infectivity from the goat meat were the animal to enter the food chain. Animals that show visible signs of TSEs (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies), which include BSE, are not permitted to enter the food chain.

If confirmed, this Scottish case would be the second goat to test positive for BSE, following confirmation on 28 January 2005 that a French goat that died in 2002 had BSE. Since 2002, 140,000 goats have been tested for TSEs across Europe and no cases of BSE have been identified, except for the French case. The European Commission is stepping up the goat-testing programme to determine whether this is an isolated incident.

The FSA said there is scientific uncertainty in this area; however, the most recent advice on dairy products from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) states that milk and milk products from goats are unlikely to present any risk of TSE contamination provided the milk is sourced from healthy animals. EFSA is continuing to work on a risk assessment in relation to goat meat.

"On the basis of the current evidence, the agency is not advising people against eating goat meat or products, including dairy products," the FSA said.

There have been no goat meat imports from France into the UK since 1997.

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