Researchers who are investigating the sensitivity of a simple biochemical test developed to screen slaughtered cattle for BSE report their first results this week.
Jean-Philippe Deslys, of the Service de Neurovirologie, Fontenay-aux-Roses, France, and colleagues, compared the test - recently approved by the European Union - with existing 'mouse bioassay' tests.
In the latter test, bovine brain-tissue is injected into mice, which then develop symptoms if the sample is infected with BSE. Because this takes time, such animal tests are impractical for the wholesale screening of cattle over 30 months old, as promised by the EU.
The test should help stop BSE-infected meat reaching the food-chain.
The new test yields results within 24 hours, and is as sensitive as the mouse assay.
However, questions still remain. For example, the team only tested brain-tissue already known to be infected with BSE: its ability to pick up disease in meat from animals showing no symptoms remains unclarified.
Deslys concluded on behalf of his team, "The test is the best we have, and should help stop infected meat reaching the food-chain."