Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was first identified as a major problem in 1986 and traced to the practice of feeding cattle on animal protein supplements, allowing infected animal products to be ingested. In the mid 1990s it was established that mad cow disease, in the form of Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease, could be transmitted to humans who ate meat from infected animals. In 1996 British beef was subject to bans from many countries. The EU lifted the ban in 1999.

In 2013 a case of mad cow disease was discovered in the United States and some countries temporarily suspended the import of beef from that country. However, US authorities claimed that the disease was detected in an ageing dairy cow that was not presented for slaughter.  In his book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser revealed that much of the hamburger mince produced in America comes from dairy cows past their milk-producing years, so the claim was not entirely reassuring.

In Australia, feeding animal products to cattle is banned. There has never been a case of mad cow disease detected in this country and Australian quarantine authorities do not allow imports of meat and bone meal into Australia. Australia is one of only 16 countries in the world to-date assessed by the European Union as meeting all criteria for the lowest geographical BSE risk level, which gives our beef industry access to many export markets.