PARIS, June 13 (Reuters) - Three herds totalling 425 cattle were destroyed in France after the discovery of two new cases of mad cow disease, the farm ministry said on Tuesday.
The new cases brought to 20 the number of cases of the fatal brain-wasting disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) reported in France this year.
They indicated France remains on track this year to exceed the 30 cases of BSE detected in 1999. One hundred cases of the disease have been reported in France since the epidemic was first detected in 1991.
The ministry said in a statement the infected animals were born in July 1994 and August 1995 in the Mayenne and Vendee regions.
Both animals were destroyed, in accordance with French law, as were two herds in the Mayenne region totalling 227 cattle and a herd in the Vendee region totalling 198 cattle.
The ministry announced last week that it would soon begin testing 48,000 French cattle for BSE in a bid to measure the extent of the epidemic among its 21 million cattle.
France remains locked in a legal battle with the European Commission over its refusal to lift a ban on imports of British beef because of fears it is not entirely free from BSE.
Britain has reported more than 176,000 cases of BSE, making the French epidemic look small by comparison. But while the number of BSE cases in Britain is falling, the French outbreak is still growing despite measures introduced almost a decade ago to combat the spread of BSE through contaminated animal feed.
France introduced tougher controls on cattle feed in 1996 and originally predicted that BSE cases would taper off in 2001, given that the disease was thought to have a five-year incubation period.
But the government has recently stopped forecasting when it expects the epidemic to die out.