A biotechnology company is to lobby the U.K.government to accelerate its testing programme for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, "mad cow disease", the Financial Times reported today. Protherics, which has developed a BSE test with the Irish company Enfer Scientific, is to urge the authorities to use its technology to guarantee that the meat sold to the public is BSE-free. The call comes days after an official inquiry criticised the way ministers and civil servants handled the BSE epidemic. Following an EU directive, every year the UK government must test at least 7,000 dead cattle older than five years. In 1999, the authorities exceeded the target and examined 12,500 dead animals with a test developed by one of Protherics' rivals, the Swiss company Prionics. Protherics claim that the current programme did not ensure meat sold was BSE-free, as the cattle tested were too old to enter the food chain and that the government should test several of the younger cattle, whose meat is available to the public. Over the past 15 years, more than 80 people are known to have died or are dying from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is contracted by eating BSE-infected beef.