Animal disease

Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies

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 – also known as BSE or mad cow disease.

Although no sheep in Scotland’s 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. We support research into TSEs in animal species used for food.

The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) TSE risk assessment subgroup provides us with independent, expert advice on TSEs.

The number of cases of BSE

The epidemic in the UK has been in decline for many years and by 2014 the total number of new cases had fallen to its lowest point since record keeping began in 1988, with only 1 confirmed case. This very small number of new cases continues the trend of previous years, which saw only 3 cases confirmed in both 2012 and 2013.

Specified Risk Material (SRM) Controls

Specified risk material (SRM) is those tissues of cattle, sheep and goats such as the brain, spinal cord, tonsils and certain bovine intestines that are most likely to carry BSE prion proteins which have been implicated in variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans.  These potentially infective materials are banned from the human food chain under European TSE Regulations and must be removed in either a slaughterhouse or cutting plant.

SRM controls are agreed at EU level and are kept under constant review to ensure they reflect the latest scientific evidence.  For example, following a favourable opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the definition of bovine SRM has recently been amended to allow certain parts of bovine intestines from cattle of all ages back into the human food chain.  These changes will enter into force in May 2015.

For more information on BSE, TSE and specified risk material, see


Trichinella spiralis is a small worm, and its larvae can cause a disease called Trichinosis, which affects many species – including humans. People can become infected by eating raw, undercooked or processed meat from pigs, wild boar, horses or game containing Trichinella spiralis.

Infection can cause symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and malaise. This can progress to fever, and in severe cases can affect the vital organs, possibly leading to meningitis, pneumonia or even death.

To prevent infected meat from pigs and other relevant species entering the human food chain, routine testing is mandatory within EU member states.


Since June 2014, EU regulation has changed the number of pigs tested for Trichinella, and how the tests should be carried out.

Find out more about testing for Trichinella in pigs on