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Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs)

Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle, scrapie in sheep and goats, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans. TSEs, which are also known as ‘prion diseases,’ are progressive, fatal brain diseases with a long interval between infection and detectable disease.

TSEs are notifiable diseases: if you suspect the diseases, you must immediately notify the duty vet in your local Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) office.

Latest situation

1 March 2013 – In GB, the requirement to test healthy slaughtered cattle for BSE ends on 1 March 2013. This applies to cattle born in EU Member States (except Bulgaria and Romania).

From 1 March 2013, the following cattle must still be tested for BSE:

  • Healthy cattle aged over 30 months slaughtered for human consumption which were born in Romania, Bulgaria and all non-EU countries;
  • Cattle sent for emergency slaughter, cattle which are identified as sick at ante-mortem inspection, and fallen stock, i.e. cattle which die or are killed other than for human consumption:
    • aged over 48 months if born in EU Member States (except Bulgaria and Romania); or
    • aged over 24 months if they were born in Romania, Bulgaria and all non-EU countries.

The method of processing BSE testing bovines for human consumption must still be documented in the “Required Method of Operation” (RMOP) document – an agreement between the Official Veterinarian and the Food Business Operator on the details of the slaughter process.

Existing agreed RMOPs will need to be revised to reflect the new requirements.

It is an offence to slaughter cattle that require BSE testing unless the FBO has an agreed RMOP. If there is no agreed RMOP in place, bovine animals that require BSE testing will not be allowed to enter the human food chain and must be disposed of by incineration as Category 1 animal by-products.

Abattoirs are encouraged to hold an approved RMOP if there is any chance that they might, occasionally, slaughter an animal which requires a BSE test.

21 November 2012 – Consultation on proposals to stop BSE testing of healthy slaughtered cattle in England and Wales from 1 January 2013

18 July 2012 – Member States voted by a qualified majority to accept a proposal by the European Commission to allow pig and poultry processed animal protein (PAP) to be incorporated into farmed fish feed. This measure is currently expected to come into force in June 2013.

A total ban on Processed Animal Protein (PAP) in farmed livestock feed was introduced in 2001 to reinforce earlier bans amid the BSE crisis. This was to prevent cattle, sheep and goats from eating their own meat and bone meal via contaminated feed – the way BSE spreads. However, BSE has declined dramatically, with only 7 cases in the UK in 2011 (1 case to date in 2012), so the EU is looking at ways to reduce unnecessary burdens on the industry.

The European Commission proposes to amend the current restrictions – specifically, to allow pig and poultry processed animal protein (PAP) to be incorporated into farmed fish feed. This follows the European Commission’s TSE Roadmap 2 published in 2010 which considers various future policy options for a managed relaxation in the TSE controls, whilst assuring a high level of food safety and the protection of animal health. As a first step, the Commission presented this specific proposal to Member States on 18 July, where it received a qualified majority. This requires implementation of the new feed testing regime which has just been developed across the EU.

The Government carefully considered the Commission’s proposal for the inclusion of non-ruminant PAPs in fish feed and it recognises the importance of risk based, proportionate policies, underpinned by good science and supports the principles outlined in TSE Roadmap 2. However, it abstained from voting for the Commission proposal, given that effective controls to prevent infective material entering the food chain must be guaranteed, tests which can differentiate the species of origin of PAP have only just been developed and consumer acceptance of any change is expected to be low.

The proposal will now be subject to the Regulatory Procedure with Scrutiny, which is expected to take three months from September, and will come into force six months after it becomes law. At present, therefore, it is expected that this measure will come into force in June 2013.

21 June 2012 – Defra launched a consultation on the proposed Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2012. The proposed new Regulations would amend and update the existing Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (England) Regulations 2010 by updating the 2010 Regulations to reflect the full range of options available in EU TSE legislation for controlling classical scrapie and to align compensation rates for BSE with the Cattle Compensation (England) Order 2012, which will comes into force on 1 July 2012. The closing date for comments is 13 September 2012.

1 July 2011BSE testing: the age from which healthy cattle slaughtered for human consumption must be tested for BSE in England increased from four years to six years.

About the diseases

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was first recognised in the UK in 1986 and has since been detected in several other countries, including most of Western Europe, North America and Japan. In 1996 the emergence of variant CJD (vCJD) in humans was linked to exposure to BSE believed to be via eating infected meat.

Scrapie has been in the UK sheep flock for over 250 years and has been reported in many other countries. In recent years many countries have detected a new (atypical) form of scrapie as a result of increased TSE surveillance. Scrapie occurs at a low prevalence in the UK and is not known to pose a risk to human health.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is endemic in North America but has not been detected in the European Union (EU). CWD is not known to pose a risk to human health but has serious implications for deer health in North America.

Controlling the diseases

The UK BSE epidemic has declined markedly since its peak of over 37000 reported cases in 1992.

In 2010, the increasing focus on ensuring that EU TSE controls remain proportionate to the risk resulted in the European Commission publishing a strategy paper for reviewing EU controls – the ‘TSE Roadmap 2’.

Defra is committed to safeguarding public health with regards to BSE. Defra supports risk-based, proportionate controls which are based on sound science and risk assessment. Defra is obliged to ensure that it implements TSE surveillance and controls as required by Regulation (EC) No.882/2004 and Regulation (EC) No. 999/2001 (as amended). The relevant industries share the responsibility for, and the cost of, delivering many of these requirements.

Key facts and figures

In recent years the number of BSE cases detected either as clinical suspects or via the substantial BSE testing programme has declined steadily. Detailed TSE statistics are available on the Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) website.


Notification of TSEs

TSEs are notifiable diseases, that is, livestock keepers are required by law to notify suspicion of disease to AHVLA.

TSE Testing in Cattle

The UK is required to test cattle for BSE as outlined in the table.

Country of birth

Eartag country code

Age over which all cattle require BSE testing

Healthy slaughtered

Emergency slaughtered or ‘sick at ante-mortem’
(fit for human consumption)

Fallen stock (not for human consumption)



From 1 March 2013: No testing required

48 months

48 months































UK (including Channel Islands and Isle of Man)


Czech Republic


















30 months

24 months

24 months



All other countries

UK (unless slaughtered within 20 days imported. Import information is shown on the inside back page of the cheque-book style passport)

Livestock keepers must ensure that fallen cattle which require BSE testing are disposed of to an approved BSE sampling site. Guidance is available in English and Welsh.

Abattoir operators must have an approved ‘Required Method of Operation’ if slaughtering cattle which require BSE testing. A list of approved abattoirs is available, and guidance is also available on seeking how to become approved to slaughter cattle which require BSE testing. NB: This guidance currently awaits updating: contact the Food Standards Agency for the latest information. Please note that approval is now required to slaughter cattle aged over 72 months as stated in the table above, not over 48 months as stated in the guidance.

TSE Testing in Sheep and Goats

The UK is required to test annually for TSE:

  • 10000 fallen sheep aged over 18 months;
  • 500 fallen goats aged over 18 months;
  • 10000 sheep slaughtered for human consumption; and
  • Sheep and goats from scrapie-infected flocks and herds.

Carcases for the fallen sheep and goat surveys are randomly selected for sampling at relevant animal by-products plants, based on quotas provided by AHVLA. Samples are also taken during routine inspections by AHVLA. Defra fund sampling, transport of samples and laboratory analysis.

TSE Feed Controls

The feed controls are the key animal health control for BSE. It is illegal to feed animal protein to ruminants (eg cattle, sheep and goats) and the feeding of processed animal protein to all farmed animals, although there are exceptions. Guidance and further information on the National Feed Audit is available.

TSE Eradication Measures

Cattle born or reared in the UK before 1 August 1996 must not be slaughtered, or sent for slaughter, for human consumption. Farmers must obtain a licence from AHVLA in order to move these cattle and must report the movements to BCMS.

Following confirmation of BSE there are requirements to kill animals which are at increased risk of being infected with the disease, for example the recent offspring of BSE cases and cattle which may have eaten the same feed as a BSE case when they were young (BSE cohorts).

Sheep flocks and goat herds with a case of TSE are required to enter the Compulsory Scrapie Flock Scheme (CSFS) requirements. Guidance is available.

Specified Risk Material (SRM) Controls

Further information is available on the Food Standards Agency website.

Legislation and regulations

Regulation (EC) No. 999/2001 (‘the EU TSE Regulation’) includes requirements for TSE surveillance, TSE control and eradication measures a ban on feeding animal proteins to livestock and the requirement to remove and dispose of specified risk material (SRM).

The Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (England) Regulations 2010 (SI. 2010 No. 801) allow Defra and the Food Standards Agency to administer the requirements of the EU TSE Regulation in England. Equivalent Regulations apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Key publications and documents

  1. BSE – advisory notes for farmers (2009): Available in English and Welsh. Please note the following amendments since the Advisory Notes were published:
    Page 9: The information on regarding the TSE testing programme is superseded by the table above, and the arrangements described for the slaughter of Over Thirty Month Old (OTM) Cattle for human consumption, now apply only to cattle aged over 72 months (O72M) as set out above.
  2. Scrapie – advisory notes for farmers (2009): Available in English and Welsh. Please note the following amendments since the Advisory Notes were published:
    Page 5: Since October 2011 the options for control of classical scrapie in affected sheep flocks and goat herds now include the option of keeping the affected holding under a movement restriction period for two years following confirmation of the last case, during which a range of controls apply. Under this option, genetically susceptible animals are not killed and destroyed unless they are suspected of being infected with classical scrapie.
    Page 5: The legal requirement for farmers to notify fallen goats to the TSE Helpline ceased on 31 December 2010.
    Page 5: Carcases for the fallen sheep and goat surveys are now randomly selected for sampling at relevant animal by-products plants, as described above.
  3. TSE in deer – advisory notes for farmers (2010): Available in English and Welsh.
  4. High Level UK Contingency Plan for the Emergence of Naturally Occurring BSE (or other Zoonotic TSEs) in Sheep or Goats (2009)
  5. Chronology of TSEs in the UK (last updated September 2009)

Older TSE publications are available.

Page last modified: 1 March 2013