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Giving blood: When will France end ban over UK’s 1980s BSE outbreak?

France does not allow people who spent over a year in the UK between 1980 and the mid-90s to give blood due to an outbreak of mad cow disease in the country during that period. We explain and look if it will ever change

People who spent over one year in the UK in the 1980s to mid-90s cannot donate blood in France due to the risk of exposure to mad cow disease Pic: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

Reader question: I am British and I was told that I cannot donate blood in France because of an outbreak of mad cow disease in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s. Why is this rule still in place so long after, and when will it be changed?

In France, one factor that disqualifies someone from giving blood is if they spent over one year in total in the UK between January 1, 1980, and December 31, 1996. This is due to an outbreak of mad cow disease (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease) in the UK at the time. 

The outbreak of the disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), caused the deaths of 177 people – who died after eating infected beef – and also led to the slaughter of millions of cows. 

France first introduced this blood donation rule in the year 2000. 

A spokesperson for the Établissement français du sang (EFS), France’s public administration in charge of blood donations, has told The Connexion that this rule is “reviewed periodically”, but there are no plans to change it in the short term. 

She said the rule is in place to protect recipients of blood donations. 

“Given the long incubation period of the disease, which lasts over decades, people who may have been exposed to it cannot give blood [in France], as a precautionary measure.” she said.

The rule may evolve over the years, especially if there are changes made at an EU level regarding the European Blood Directive

Any decision to change the law in France would be made by the country’s national agency in charge of the safety of medicines and health products (ANSM) and the health ministry. 

You can read more about how to give blood in France in our article here

You can also find out if you are eligible to give blood in France by taking ESF’s quick online quiz here

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