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Co Louth

Suspected BSE case is '80% likely' to test positive for the disease

If it’s confirmed, it will be the first case of BSE found in Ireland since 2013.

Updated 6.20pm

A SUSPECTED CASE of BSE, which is commonly known as mad cow disease, has been discovered in Ireland.

Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, said that there is no human risk with the case.

County Louth

The Department of Agriculture said earlier today that a suspected Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) case had been identified in county Louth. The suspected case of the disease was identified in a five-year-old cow on a dairy farm.

At a press conference today, it was confirmed that authorities believe it is 80% likely this is a positive case.

The cow was of the Rotbunt breed, which is rare in Ireland, and there hasn’t been a comparable case in such a cow since 2005.

The cow was part of a herd that had BSE back in the early 2000s.

Though the results of the test will be confirmed in a week, the investigation should last a number of weeks.

The screening sample was taken on Tuesday and sent to the Backweston laboratory for testing. The initial result came through last night, but further testing is needed.

The cow in question was sent to knackery and has not entered the food chain.

Contaminated feed questions

Classical BSE is associated with contaminated feed and the investigation will include looking at what the cow was fed early in its life. It will also focus on identifying the cow’s offspring, which may be at other farms and could be at risk of having BSE.

The number of BSE cases peaked in Ireland in 2002, at 333, but after the feed ban was put in place in 2001, the numbers dropped hugely.

There were no cases of BSE in 2014. Every animal that goes into a knackery over the age of 48 months is tested for BSE.

Five-year-old cow

The case was identified through the Department’s on-going surveillance system on fallen animals (ie animals which die on farms).

The animal was not presented for slaughter and did not enter the food chain.

Confirmatory tests are being undertaken and results will be available in approximately one week.

Of concern

If confirmed, this will be the first BSE case found in Ireland since 2013.

Speaking on the News at One on RTÉ Radio One today, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said that there is “absolutely no human risk” with the suspected case.

What we have here is an isolated case [involving] a rare breed of cow in Co Louth.

He said that the department needs to be fully transparent on the issue, and it has also made contact with its key trade partners to let them know the situation.

“Of course it’s of concern,” he said, describing it as an isolated case.

Coveney said that “on one level, this is reassuring – we have systems that pick up these isolated cases”.

He said that the issue is important “because of the reputational historic BSE issue that Ireland dealt with in the past”, also saying that he is “hopeful” it won’t impact on Ireland’s relationship with its trading counterparts.

The Minister said that there will be a full investigation into what could have happened, which will include checking, and destroying, the animal’s progeny.

“If this cow has had calves, all those animals will I suspect be destroyed as a precaution,” he added. “There is no reason to believe as of yet there are any other animals that are infected.”

Impact on BSE risk status

If the tests confirm this to be a classical case of BSE, this may impact on Ireland’s recently awarded “negligible risk status” for BSE from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

According to the Department of Agriculture, if the test is confirmed:

In this case Ireland will revert to “controlled risk status” which applied up to last week and which facilitated trade to a wide range of international markets. It will also result in the continuation of the existing range of controls for a further number of years.

bse risk OIE OIE

DAFM said it is now undertaking a full investigation into all relevant factors in this case – including a full epidemiological examination.

It is also informing the relevant national and international reference organisations and the European Commission, and will be liaising with trading partners.

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Agriculture, Éamon Ó Cúiv, said:

It is essential that immediate action is taken to isolate the cow and the farm.  All measures must be utilised to ensure that the herd’s status is protected and that a comprehensive plan is put in place to limit exposure to any potential case.

The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) President Eddie Downey said:

This isolated case shows the effectiveness of the monitoring and control systems in place in Ireland.

He said the traceability and monitoring controls adopted by farmers and the sector are “the most stringent and robust anywhere and ensure the health status and quality of our agri-produce”.

A random case is not unusual in the context of the robust control systems we have in place for all diseases.

BSE epidemic

The disease BSE can be spread to humans if they eat food that is contaminated with the brain, spinal cord, or digestive tract of infected cow carcasses.

In 1986, a confirmed case of BSE in the United Kingdom led to an epidemic in British cattle.

It was first confirmed in cattle in Ireland in 1989, which led to the introduction of a number of risk management measures.

The Department of Agriculture explained:

In 1989 legislation was passed which makes it compulsory for veterinary surgeons, farmers and all other persons in charge of bovine animals to notify the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) if they see an animal displaying clinical signs consistent with BSE.
In 1990 a ban on the feeding of meat-and-bone meal (MBM) to ruminant animals was introduced. In 1996 and 1997 the BSE control measures in place in Ireland were substantially reinforced following the identification of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

Risk management measures have been in place since then, which are targeted at:

  • Disease surveillance and control measures (removing infected animals); 
  • Exclusion of specified risk material (SRM) from human food and animal feed chains (removing from all animals, and destroying, the tissues shown to be capable of transmitting the BSE agent);
  • Preventing access to MBM by all ruminant animals.

The National Beef Assurance Scheme was introduced following the BSE crisis in 1996, to tighten up the conditions of production and processing of cattle and beef in Ireland.

Read: After 15 years, China has lifted its ban on Irish beef>

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