France's agriculture ministry has confirmed that a case of mad cow disease has been found in the northeastern part of the country.
French officials identified the case of the disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), last week in the region of Ardennes during a test involving cattle older than 48 months after slaughter.
"A suspected case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), detected in a 5-year-old cow, which died prematurely at a cattle farm in Ardennes, was confirmed on March 23 by the European Union reference laboratory," the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry also assured the public on its website that France's beef is safe for people to eat because all parts of the cow that could be infected must be removed in slaughter houses. However, it added that the issue may affect French exports since the country's official BSE risk level assigned by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) would be changed.
"Depending on countries, export conditions of French cattle could be modified," the ministry said.
BSE affects the brain of cattle and can lead to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a degenerative brain disorder in humans that causes death.
The discovery that BSE could also be transmitted to humans who ate infected beef sparked a scare in the 1990s. However, upon discovering that the disease was connected to the use of infected remains recycled for animal feed, countries decided to establish safeguards that have kept the disease from becoming widespread ever since.
OIE data shows that while the number of BSE cases has declined, there have still been isolated cases, the latest one being the first in France since 2011. There were six cases of BSE worldwide in 2015, which included one in Ireland, Canada, Norway and Slovenia, as well as two in Britain. This represents a decline in these cases from 1,957 in 2000, 561 in 2005 and 125 in 2008.
An OIE spokeswoman noted that the latest case in France is not a sign that mad cow disease will make a comeback anytime soon.
"The risk management and monitoring systems set up in the early 2000s have shown their effectiveness considering the drastic reduction of cases," the spokeswoman said.