UK

Case of mad cow disease is identified on a Somerset farm

Case of mad cow disease is identified on a Somerset farm as officials seal off the area to stop infection spreading

  • Infected animal is dead and has been removed from the unnamed farm
  • The agency said precautionary movement restrictions have been put in place
  • Today’s case is first since 2018, when disease was found on a farm in Scotland


A case of mad cow disease has been confirmed on a farm in Somerset.   

The Animal and Plant Health Agency said the infected animal was dead and had been removed from the farm.

It said there was ‘no risk to food safety’.

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, the official name of which is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Today’s case is the first since 2018, when the disease was found on a farm in Scotland.   

A case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – an infection commonly known as mad cow disease – has been confirmed on a farm in Somerset (file photo)

At the disease’s peak in the early 1990s, it was infecting more than 30,000 cows a year. 

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.  

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. In comparison, there have been just six cases since 2012 – including today’s.

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.

WHAT IS MAD COW DISEASE?

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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