Cattle have been quarantined in Texas while regulators probe the possibility that a feed mill violated federal BSE law by utilising meat and bone meal in livestock feed,  running the potential risk of a mad cow outbreak.

The Texas feed mill involved in the investigation has not been identified, but it apparently contacted the FDA last week upon realising that inadvertently some bone meal derived from domestic cattle may have been mixed by a bovine feed supplement, and notified the agency.

Regulators say the quarantine of around 1,200 animals from the nation’s largest cattle-producing state is merely a precaution while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) carries out the investigation and deems whether they are fit for human consumption.

The FDA introduced BSE regulations in 1997, because many scientists believe that the disease is transmitted through animals ruminants in livestock feed. Some scientists also believe that eating beef from an animal with mad cow disease causes vCJD, a devastating human form of mad cow disease that has caused over 80 deaths in the UK and in Europe.

Inspections have suggested that the mill is not alone, and that many companies are not following the BSE labelling and record keeping rules. FDA officials are promising however to ensure the rules are fully observed, while authorities are still working hard to convince consumers that US cattle is BSE-free. A spokesman from the USDA commented: “With all of our surveillance over the last 10 years we have found no evidence of BSE in this country.”

Despite the fact that test results are not yet clear, FDA spokesman Lawrence Bachorick reassured the public that none of the quarantined animals had eaten any of the potentially mixed up feed. And even if they had, they would not enter the human food chain.

And even if this happened, Linda Detwiler, senior staff veterinarian at the USDA, stressed that because the bone meal is derived from BSE-free domestically reared cattle, then none of the animals involved would have contracted the disease.

“We hope to resolve this issue sometime next week,” added Bachorick.