The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) said in a statement this week that the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a cow in Canada should not result in widespread hysteria in Europe and elsewhere.
The body reiterated its belief that the surveillance and diagnosis programmes already in place are working.
"The identification of a single case of BSE is not a cause for panic," said FAO's Andrew Speedy of the animal production and health division.
"It is good news that odd single cases of BSE are being picked up by inspection. There has been no sign of an escalation of numbers in any of the countries that have identified isolated cases. Rather, it demonstrates that active surveillance is picking up the one-in-a-million case.
"All countries should continue to check for the disease and apply precautionary measures, even where BSE has never been found."
Speedy pointed out that in the European countries most badly affected by BSE, there has been a clear decrease in the number of cases. In the UK, for example, the numbers peaked in 1992 with 37,000 cases and went down to 1,144 cases in 2002.
"There were fewer than 1,000 cases identified by the surveillance programmes in the rest of Europe in 2002, out of a total cattle population of over 80 million," said Speedy.
Meat-and-bone-meal is no longer fed to ruminants in many countries and it has been banned altogether in the EU, according to FAO. Programmes are in place to test large numbers of animals by microscopic examination and modern laboratory tests.
These steps are meant to ensure that infective material will not enter the food chain. However, the FAO has urged countries to tighten checks on BSE.
"Even countries which have not found any cases of BSE should now consider adopting more stringent measures," said Speedy. To help countries implement stricter controls, the FAO is facilitating co-operation between Switzerland, which has successfully dealt with the BSE crisis, and countries in Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America.
"Training the trainers in this co-operation project will allow the spread of expertise in further countries requiring such assistance," said Speedy. This will involve not only inspectors and laboratory personnel but also those involved in the feed and meat industries so that they are trained in 'good practices' which minimise the risks throughout the food chain.
"Stricter rules and attention to detail are called for to be absolutely sure that meat is safe."