A new study carried out for the UK’s Food Standards Agency has shown that traces of tonsil in cattle tongue (normally known as ox tongue) remain after processing. The FSA reported in October 2002 that preliminary results from FSA-sponsored research had shown that cow tonsil may become infected with BSE in experimentally infected animals. 

Three-quarters of the tongues examined in the new study had some tonsil tissue present. Even when all visible tonsil tissue was removed, research has found that very small amounts remained in the majority of tongues tested.

However, the Government’s advisory committee on BSE, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), today agreed that although there are some uncertainties, the risk is likely to be very small. The FSA said it was therefore not advising against eating ox tongue.

Total annual UK sales of ox tongue are 2,300 tonnes, of which 1,800 tonnes is of UK origin and 500 tonnes imported. Around 80% of UK tongue production is in canned form, and another 10% is cooked, sliced and vacuum-packed.