Spain has confirmed a case of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), commonly known as mad cow disease, in the northwestern province of Castilla-y-Leon, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Routine testing has reportedly shown a positive result for Atypical BSE type L disease, in tissue from an animal on a livestock holding near the town of Salamanca.

A spokesman at Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture said the discovery would not lead to any restrictions on trade or affect consumers.

Classical mad cow disease was detected in Britain in the 1980s. It spread to other parts of Europe and ravaged herds for many years. It was linked to the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – a brain-degenerative condition in humans.

Back in 2012, an Atypical case in Brazil – one of the largest exporters of beef – led to some importers withdrawing their trade.

Atypical BSE identified in cow in Ireland

Atypical cases have been detected occasionally during more recent years; here in Ireland a case was detected in January.

In that instance, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine identified an Atypical case in an 18-year-old cow, through its surveillance of ‘fallen’ animals (died on farm) at knackeries.

It is understood that the case related to a cow in Co. Galway.

The animal tested positive on a screening test carried out at a Department approved, accredited private laboratory, and was then subject to follow up confirmatory tests at the Department’s Central Veterinary Research Laboratory.

There were no associated public health risks with this event. A comprehensive set of public health controls were in place and the animal was excluded from the food chain and its carcase was incinerated, according to the Department.

There are two types of this disease:

Classical BSE

Classical BSE was the basis of the extensive incidence of BSE which commenced some in the 1980s, which was associated with the feeding of meat-and-bone meal. Scientific evidence indicates that it is acquired in the first year of life.

Atypical BSE

Atypical BSE, which is the case that has now been detected in Spain, has been identified more recently and is thought to occur spontaneously.

Atypical BSE occurs sporadically in older animals with a low incidence rate.

It was first recognised in the early 2000s in Europe, following the large scale testing of livestock that was put in place at that time.