Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE): how to spot and report the disease

Advice on what to do if you suspect there is an outbreak of this infectious disease.

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Testing cattle for BSE

Cattle slaughtered for human consumption

From 1 March 2013, healthy cattle born in the UK or any other EU Member State, other than Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia, that are slaughtered for human consumption do not need to be tested for BSE.

The following cattle must still test negative for BSE prior to consumption of the meat:

Healthy cattle aged over 30 months, slaughtered for human consumption which were born in Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and all non-EU countries.

Emergency slaughter or fallen cattle

The following cattle must still be tested for BSE:

  • emergency slaughter (i.e. an otherwise healthy animal that has suffered an accident that prevented its transport to the slaughterhouse/found to be sick in an inspection after death) and fallen cattle aged over 48 months if born in EU member states except Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia
  • emergency slaughter and fallen cattle aged over 24 months which were born in Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and all non-EU countries

You must send fallen cattle that require BSE testing to an approved BSE sampling site.

From 1 April 2019, the animal owner will be responsible for the cost of taking Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) samples from fallen stock cattle. The government will continue to pay the cost of transporting and testing the sample.

BSE surveillance on Scottish islands for fallen stock

Scottish Islands, except Skye and Bute, are exempt from BSE surveillance. 

Scottish Islands, except Bute, are under a remote burial derogation along with the majority of the Scottish Highlands. This allows on farm burial of fallen stock, but this should be carried out as a last resort with every other option of retrieving/disposing of the carcass exhausted. 

On-farm disposal (i.e. burial or open burning) of fallen adult cattle will be permitted, provided this is done in accordance with Section 10 of the PEPFAA Code.

A map has been prepared highlighting the Scottish islands which are exempt from the surveillance requirements.

Feed controls

There have been a number of BSE cases born in the UK after the 1996 feed ban. Some of these cases are believed to be due to persistence of contaminated feed produced before 1 August 1996, for example where feed stores have not been cleaned out properly. Other cases may be due to contaminated feed imported after this date. There is evidence that traces of contaminated feed might have persisted in feed stores for several years before infecting young cattle.


It is essential that you clean out your cattle feed stores thoroughly on a regular basis.

Further guidance on the regulations surrounding feed controls is available. 


If you suspect signs of any notifiable diseases, you must immediately notify your Scotland: field service local office at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). Failure to do so is an offence. 

This applies to cattle in your possession or under your control at farms, markets, slaughterhouses or other places. You may wish to take advice from your private veterinary surgeon who will contact APHA if they suspect BSE.

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