France reported its first case of the "mad cow" disease Friday, raising fears a malady that devastated British herds had crossed the English Channel.

The disease, which destroys the brains and central-nervous systems of cattle, led to temporary bans last year on imports of British beef in several European countries.The disease eats holes in the brain and leaving tissues spongy. Affected animals foam at the mouth and are unable to stand or walk normally.

Regional authorities in Britanny town of Saint Brieuc, western France, reported Friday that veterinary pathologists found the malady in a Holstein-Fresian dairy cow that died Jan. 16.

The cow, part of a herd of 67 dairy cattle, exhibited the classic symptoms of "mad cow" disease: hyperexcitability coupled with loss of coordination, then death.

The disease, technically called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE, had killed more that 16,000 cows in Britain by mid-1990.

No cases have been reported this year, and the British government has declared beef safe to eat.

French officials have been bracing for the appearance of the disease since at least June. One case was reported in Switzerland last year and another this year.

"We're not extremely astonished," said Michel Prost, an Agriculture Ministry technical adviser. "We always thought we'd get it here, either through exportation of infected animals before June 1990, or from animal-based feed."

The ministry is treating the incident as an isolated case. By making the results of the tests public, officials hope to alert growers.

Agriculture authorities have purchased the remainder of the Saint-Brieuc dairy herd. The animals will undergo tests for the disease at the National Center of Veterinary Studies in Lyon.

Edouard Hillion, director of veterinary services at Saint-Brieuc, said he was investigating to see if the infected cow had been raised on offal-based feed.