The BCG vaccine strain cannot, with confidence, be differentiated from other members of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex on phenotypic tests alone. Isolates from clinical sites not associated with vaccination may be confused with M. tuberculosis. A characteristic of BCG strains is the deletion of the genomic region RD1; detection of this forms the basis of a multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay to distinguish BCG strains. In this study, 28 M. tuberculosis complex strains were analysed by the PCR assay. A DNA sequence displaying the characteristic deletion was detected in all eleven of the BCG strains tested and was not found in representatives of other members of the complex, including M. bovis. Thus, the assay affords a rapid, simple and effective method for the discrimination of the BCG vaccine strain from other members of the M. tuberculosis complex.