BSE and other Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies

Last updated:
28 September 2015
Cattle, sheep and goats are susceptible to a group of brain diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). The best known of these diseases is bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle, it is also known as BSE or mad cow disease.

There are strict controls in place in the UK to protect people from BSE. The Food Standards Agency monitors these controls and publicises any breaches, as well as the actions taken to prevent further failures.

Although no sheep in the UK flock have been found to have BSE, there are a number of precautionary safety measures in place since it has been shown under laboratory conditions that sheep can be infected with BSE. The FSA continues to review and support research into TSEs in animal species used for food.

The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) TSE risk assessment subgroup provides independent expert advice on TSEs to the FSA and other departments.

How is BSE being controlled in the UK?

The Government has had in place a range of measures to reduce the risk of people eating beef or meat products that might be infected with BSE since the late 1980s. These control measures have been revised from time to time based on current scientific knowledge.

The key food safety control is the removal of specified risk material, however there are also controls on animal feed and a requirement to test certain categories of animal for BSE. In addition to these controls, cattle with BSE or suspected of having BSE and the offspring and cohorts of BSE cases are removed from the food chain.



The European TSE Regulation 999/2001 (as amended) sets out the requirements for TSE monitoring, animal feeding and the removal of specified risk material. The corresponding legislation in England, Wales and Northern is below.


The TSEs (England) Regulations 2010 as amended by The Animal By-Products (Enforcement) and TSEs (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 and The TSEs (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2013


The TSEs (Wales) Regulations 2008 (as amended by The TSEs (Wales) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2008 and The TSEs (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2010

Northern Ireland

The TSEs Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010

Specified Risk Material (SRM)

SRM is the parts of cattle, and sheep and goats most likely to carry BSE. All SRM must be removed in either the slaughterhouse or cutting plant. The SRM must be stained and disposed of and does not go into our food or animal feed. In cattle, the SRM controls ensure removal of tissues of highest risk for potential infectivity in the unlikely event of an animal infected with BSE, but not yet showing any clinical signs, being slaughtered for human consumption.

Feed controls

Animal feed containing meat and bone meal is thought to have been responsible for the spread of BSE among cattle. A ban on the feeding of meat and bone meal to ruminants was introduced in the UK in 1988. In August 1996 this was extended to cover the feeding of meat and bone meal to all farm animals. EU Regulations now prohibit (with certain exceptions) the use of processed animal protein in feed to all livestock.

The following controls are in force across Europe:

  • a prohibition on the use of mammalian protein in feed to ruminant animals
  • a prohibition on the incorporation of mammalian meat and bone meal in any farmed livestock feed (with the exception of processed animal protein in aquacuture feed)
  • a ban, except in tightly defined circumstances, on having mammalian meat and bone meal material on premises where livestock feed is used, produced or stored

How are controls enforced the in UK

The FSA has inspection staff in all slaughterhouses and cutting plants to monitor compliance with the requirements of the European and domestic legislation. Every carcass is subject to a final inspection before being health marked as fit for human consumption.

The Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) of the European Commission, operates a rolling programme of inspection to ensure compliance with the EU requirements in member states.