The occurrence of BSE cases in Germany after the ban of meat and bone meal for ruminant feed in 1994 requires a detailed investigation of animal derived feedstuffs regarding their specific risks as vectors for the disease. Accepting the theory that BSE is a prion transmitted disease, the theoretical infectious potential was calculated for animal derived feedstuffs. This calculation was based on the assumption, that risk material (brain, spinal cord) of one clinically diseased cattle was rendered in the process as established in Germany (133 degrees C, 3 bar, 20 min) or, alternatively, that one diseased animal was slaughtered resulting in normal processing of the by-products for human food production. From this risk assessment it became obvious that meat and bone meal was one, but probably not the most important source for the spreading of BSE. Taking into account the high sensitivity of calves it can be speculated that certain products, e.g. from bone processing (bone meal) and fat melting (mixed animal fats), commonly used for the formulation of milk replacers, might have been more important as pathways. As it can"t be excluded retrospectively that infected meat and bone meal was imported from the UK, this non-calculable influence may have been related to the significance of the other products. The calculation model underlines that efficient removal of specified risk material (brain, spinal cord) and adequate processing (133 degrees C, 3 bar, 20 min) or alternatively other equivalent treatments of fats are prerequisites for minimising the risk of feed borne transmission of BSE by animal derived feedstuffs. The epidemiological consequences are part of a subsequent paper.