The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports a 50% drop in BSE cattle infections. In 2005, just 474 animals died of BSE around the world, compared with 878 in 2004 and 1,646 in 2003, and against a peak of several tens of thousands in 1992, according to World Animal Health Organization (OIE) figures.

In 2005, five human deaths from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), a human form of BSE, were recorded. All the cases were in the UK, where nine deaths were registered in 2004 and 18 in 2003.

In Europe, BSE cases fell by 40% to about 500 cases in 2005, prompting the European Commission (EC) to adopt a plan in July 2005 to soften restrictions and reduce testing costs. Earlier this month, the EC lifted the European Union (EU) ban on British cattle.

In fact, consumption of beef and veal surpassed EU production for the first time in 20 years in 2003 and is expected to grow further by 2012, a recent EC report forecasts.

BSE was first recognized in the UK in 1986. At its peak in 1992, a total of 37,280 cases were discovered in UK cattle. -- Joe Roybal