The first case of mad cow disease in Scotland for a decade has been confirmed in a beef herd in Aberdeenshire, in a bitterly disappointing setback for the farming industry.

The Scottish Government imposed a precautionary ban on animal movements at the unnamed farm in Huntly after the identification of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy).

Ministers stressed the five-year-old animal involved did not enter the food chain, and was a case of “classical BSE”, which does not represent a threat to human health.

Four other animals from the same herd, including offspring, are now being culled.

The last case of BSE in Scotland was in November 2008, and last year the country was deemed at “negligible risk” of the disease, helping to boost beef exports.

After BSE was identified in the UK in 1986, around 4.4m cattle were slaughtered in a largely successful effort to eradicate it, with only 16 cases reported in the UK since 2011.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency is now investigating the source of the Aberdeenshire outbreak.

The case was identified as a result of strict control measures, as all animals over four years of age which die on a farm are routinely tested for BSE.

There are also control measures to protect consumers include the removal of specified risk material such as the spinal column, brain and skull from carcasses.

Proteins called prions involved in BSE are suspected of causing the fatal degenerative condition Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease if transmitted to humans.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “Following confirmation of a case of classical BSE in Aberdeenshire, I have activated the Scottish Government’s response plan to protect our valuable farming industry, including establishing a precautionary movement ban being placed on the farm.

“While it is important to stress that this is standard procedure until we have a clear understanding of the diseases origin, this is further proof that our surveillance system for detecting this type of disease is working.”

North East Tory MSP Peter Chapman said: "This is a potentially extremely serious issue for farming in Scotland, and particularly the north east.

"We’ve been free of BSE for many years, so this is a very concerning development.

"Now we need everyone to work together to find out everything they can about this case.

"The good news is this disease isn’t transmissible between cattle in contact with each other, so there is no risk to neighbouring farms.”

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said the case was a great concern to farmers across the country.

She said: “It is vital that the Scottish Government takes speedy and effective measures to reassure and protect the industry and the communities it supports.“Scottish beef is amongst some of the finest in the world and is worth hundreds of millions of pounds to our economy.

“The Cabinet Secretary must keep Parliament and the public informed of developments.”

Chief Veterinary Officer Sheila Voas said: “While it is too early to tell where the disease came from in this case, its detection is proof that our surveillance system is doing its job. I would urge any farmer who has concerns to immediately seek veterinary advice.”

Ian McWatt, Director of Operations in Food Standards Scotland said: “There are strict controls in place to protect consumers from the risk of BSE, including controls on animal feed, and removal of the parts of cattle most likely to carry BSE infectivity.

“Consumers can be reassured that these important protection measures remain in place.

“Food Standards Scotland Official Veterinarians and Meat Hygiene Inspectors working in all abattoirs in Scotland will continue to ensure that in respect of BSE controls, the safety of consumers remains a priority.”