The UN food agency has warned that Mad Cow Disease could spread worldwide.
Until now all known cases of BSE and the brain-wasting human variant vCJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), have been reported in Europe, or in cattle imported from Europe.
But the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on Friday said all countries which had imported cattle or meat and bone meal (MBM) from western Europe - especially
Britain - since the 1980s, could be considered at risk.
The Middle East, eastern Europe, North Africa and India were pinpointed as the highest risk.
And it urged governments to take steps to prevent the disease reaching humans throughout the world.
It said in a statement: "There is an increasingly grave situation developing in the
European Union, with BSE being identified in cattle in several
member-states of the EU which have, until recently, been regarded as
free from the disease."
A worker at a slaughterhouse put lids on containers full of pieces of dead cows painted blue to identify that they are to be incinerated, in Souses about 220 kilometers (136 miles) south of Lisbon, Portugal, Thursday Jan. 25, 2001. Portugal on Thursday begans slaughtering some 50,000 cattle as part of an effort to purge herds of mad cow disease. (AP Photo/Gael Cornier)
BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) first appeared in 1984 in a cow in Britain that was thought to have eaten feed that included offal from sheep that harboured scrapie, a similar illness.
Since then it has spread across much of Europe.
In the UK, more than 170,000 cattle have been diagnosed with BSE and about 1,300 in Belgium, Denmark, France, the Republic of Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland.
Germany and Spain reported their first native cases of BSE last year and Italy reported its first domestic case last week.
Small numbers of cases have also been reported in Canada, the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), Italy and Oman, but solely in animals imported from the UK.
More than 80 people in Europe have died from vCJD.
In Germany, where Mad Cow Disease has led to the resignation of two ministers over their handling of the crisis, health officials on Friday lowered the age for testing slaughtered cattle for BSE from 30 to 24 months.
Germany may have to slaughter about 300,000
cows this year to guarantee herds are healthy as it works to restore
consumer confidence in meat.
In Texas, USA, about 1,000 cattle are
being quarantined while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determines
if they ate animal feed from a mill that may have violated rules
designed to prevent BSE.
A recent FDA report found that hundreds of feed makers were
violating labelling requirements and other rules associated with the
Australia has extended its tests for BSE to dairy and other products from European countries as part of
efforts to remain free of the disease.
But the Japanese Agriculture Ministry said a BSE outbreak was unlikely as the country had
taken sufficient preventive measures.
"We have taken preventive measures since 1990 and we have
had no reports of the disease in Japan to date.
"It is quite
unlikely that the disease will spread to Japan in the future."
Officials in Indonesia and Thailand, two other countries pinpointed by scientists as at risk, ruled out any threat from the disease, saying they sourced their feed and beef from
countries free of the disease.
Indian experts in Delhi expressed little immediate concern over the disease though the country has an immense cattle population.
Cows are considered sacred and are protected by Hindus who do not eat beef.
Copyright 2001 BBC