“A suspected case of BSE in a goat slaughtered in France in 2002 has been confirmed today by a panel of European scientists,” the EU Commission said in a statement.

Scientists initially thought the animal, born in 2000, had scrapie, a disease from the same family as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the formal name for mad cow disease.

The Commission underlined there was little risk of humans catching the disease due to strict food hygiene and animal feed rules.

“Precautionary measures to protect consumers from this eventuality have been applied in the EU for several years … any possible risk to consumers is minimal,” it said.

The EU’s food safety authority EFSA said it was too early to analyze the risk from goat meat and further checks were needed.

“Important information gaps do not allow at this stage the quantification of BSE-related risk with regard to the consumption of goat meat,” it said in a statement.

The 25-nation bloc has approximately 11.6 million goats with the largest herds found in France, Spain and Greece.
Up until now, the risk of mad cow disease jumping species has focused on sheep not goats.

No case of BSE has ever been confirmed as naturally occurring in sheep, but there are fears that some sheep diagnosed as having scrapie — not known to be harmful to humans — might be carrying the brain-wasting affliction.

Mad cow, thought to have been introduced into herds from feed made with meat and bone meal, rampaged across Europe in the 1980s and 1990s. More than 100 people have died from the human form of the disease after eating tainted meat.

The EU subsequently banned the use of animal parts in feed and also removed high risk material such as spinal chord, intestines and brain from the food and feed chain.

The Commission said it wanted to increase BSE testing in goats for at least six months and would focus on EU states which have BSE cases in cattle.

“I want to reassure consumers that existing safety measures in the EU offer a very high level of protection,” EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said.

“The testing program has shown us that there is a very low incidence rate of TSEs in goats and allowed us to detect suspect animals so that they can be taken out of the food chain, as was done with this goat and its entire herd.”

TSE stands for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, a family of disease that includes BSE and scrapie.

The French agriculture ministry said the goat came from the Ardeche region, in southeast France, and was part of a flock of 300 goats which were all slaughtered and their carcasses destroyed. All the other animals killed had tested negative.

ANICAP, the French goat producers’ group said they were not worried by the discovery because BSE did not affect milk products and people consumed very little goat meat.

“Many protective measures had been taken by the administration long ago to face any possible (BSE) case,” ANICAP director Marilyne Le Page said. “We are not worried.”

Mad cow disease was first identified in Britain in 1986.

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