"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 on Friday.

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 said there was little risk of humans catching the disease because of 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.

Risk analysis

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

"I want to reassure consumers that existing safety measures in the EU offer a very high level of protection"

Markos Kyprianou,
EU health and consumer protection commissioner

"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 about 11.6 million goats, with the largest herds in France, Spain and Greece.

Until now, the risk of mad cow disease jumping species has focused on sheep, not goats.

No case of BSE has 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.

Disease from feed

Mad cow, first discovered in Britain in 1986, is thought to have been introduced into herds from feed made with meat and bone meal. It 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.

Meat and bone found in animal
feed is blamed for the disease

The EU subsequently banned the use of animal parts in feed and also removed high risk material such as spinal cord, 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 that 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 French agriculture ministry said the goat came from the Ardeche region, in southeast France, and was part of a flock of 300 goats that all were 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 does not affect milk products and people consume 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."