United Kingdom

Investigation begins to find origin of case of mad cow disease identified on Somerset farm

An investigation has begun to find origin of the case of mad cow disease that was identified on a farm in Somerset on Friday.

Officials said the dead animal had been removed from the unnamed farm in southwest England, adding there was 'no risk to food safety'.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) said they will launch a 'thorough investigation of the herd, the premises, potential sources of infection and will produce a full report on the incident in due course'. 

Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said: 'The UK's overall risk status for BSE remains at 'controlled' and there is no risk to food safety or public health.' 

The APHA are set to launch 'thorough investigation' into mad cow disease on Somerset farm Case was confirmed on Friday and the dead animal had already been removed (file photo)

Five cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, have been identified in Britain since 2014.  

However, APHA added that all of the confirmed cases have been in animals not destined for the human food chain and posed no risk to the general public.

Yesterday's case is first since 2018, when disease was found on a farm in Scotland.  

The agency said precautionary movement restrictions have been put in place to stop the movement of livestock in the area while further investigations continue to identify the origin of the disease. 

Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said the dead animal was tested as part of 'TSE [transmissible spongiform encephalopathies] surveillance controls'.

She added: 'This is further proof that our surveillance system for detecting and containing this type of disease is working.

'We recognise this will be a traumatic time for the farmer and we are on hand to offer advice through this difficult period.

'The UK's overall risk status for BSE remains at 'controlled' and there is no risk to food safety or public health.' 

A spokesperson for the Food Standards Agency said: 'There are strict controls in place to protect consumers from the risk of BSE, including controls on animal feed, and removal of the parts of cattle most likely to carry BSE infectivity.

Millions of cattle were culled and cremated in the UK in the 1990s during a BSE epidemic which was infecting more than 30,000 cows a year at its peak

'Consumers can be reassured that these important protection measures remain in place and that Food Standards Agency Official Veterinarians and Meat Hygiene Inspectors working in all abattoirs in England will continue to ensure that the safety of consumers remains the top priority.'

Millions of cattle were culled in the UK in the 1990s during a BSE epidemic which was infecting more than 30,000 cows a year at its peak.

Strict controls were introduced to protect consumers after it was linked to a fatal condition in humans called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD.

It was first discovered in 1984 in Sussex and in the ensuing outbreak British beef exports were banned, cows were culled and people died because of a brain illness caused by BSE.  

All beef exports from Britain were banned by the European Union during the outbreak and the ban wasn't lifted until 2006. Above: Culled cows in 1996

The first cow to be diagnosed, known as cow 133, had an arched back, had lost weight, suffered tremors and lost its co-ordination – it died within six weeks.

Officials found giving cows 'cannibal' feed with protein from other cows or sheep was the cause of BSE, so banned the practice in 1989.

The Government ordered that infected cows be killed but only offered a 50 per cent compensation to farmers, leading some of them to illegally sell infected animals for human food.

By 1992 and 1993, thousands of cows were infected. In those two years alone, 72,370 cows in the UK were found to have mad cow disease. 

By 1996, people had begun to die from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which occurs in the brain of people infected with mad cow disease.

In the same year, all beef exports from Britain were banned by the European Union and the ban wasn't lifted until 2006.

Cows over the age of 30 months were ordered to be killed to halt the spread of the disease – called the Over Thirty Months Scheme.


Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is a fatal neurological disease in cattle caused by an abnormal protein that destroys the brain and spinal cord.

The disease was first identified in Great Britain in 1986, although research suggests the first infections may have spontaneously occurred in the 1970s.

It is believed to be spread by feeding calves meat and bone meal contaminated with BSE.

Humans can contract variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (vCJD) if beef products contaminated with central nervous system tissue from cattle infected with mad cow disease are eaten. There is no treatment and 177 people have been killed by the variant.

There were 36,000 diagnosed cases of mad cow disease in Great Britain in 1992, leading to British beef exports being banned and dozens of people dying.

In August 1996, a British coroner ruled that Peter Hall, a 20-year old vegetarian who died of vCJD, contracted the disease from eating beef burgers as a child.

The verdict was the first to legally link a human death to mad cow disease. 

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