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BSE suspected in cow death

Published 11/06/2015

A five-year-old cow which died on a farm in Co Louth is suspected to have had BSE
A five-year-old cow which died on a farm in Co Louth is suspected to have had BSE

A suspected case of BSE has been reported from a farm for the first time since 2013, potentially hitting big international beef deals secured in the last year.

Department of Agriculture chiefs said a five-year-old cow died on a farm in Co Louth but it did not enter the food chain and was not sent to a slaughter house.

Tests on the carcass to determine whether there is any trace of the disease will take one week.

Officials warned that if, as expected, BSE is confirmed it may impact on Ireland's beef and dairy industry recently being awarded the status of "negligible risk" and being downgraded to "controlled risk" by the World Organisation for Animal Health.

No cases of BSE have been reported in Ireland since 2013 when only one was confirmed. There have not been more than 10 cases in one year since 2008.

In the last year, Ireland was the first EU country to re-gain access to the US beef market and to have the beef ban lifted in China.

It is not clear how this case will hit the international trade deals.

The Department of Agriculture said officials were notifying national and international reference organisations and the European Commission.

Simon Coveney, Agriculture Minister, said he was hopeful the big international beef trade deals would not be at risk.

"There is absolutely no human risk here. This is an animal health issue," he told RTE.

"Of course it's important because of the reputational issue of the historic BSE problem that Ireland has dealt with in the past and the view among most people that BSE was a problem that was over for Irish agriculture."

The minister said it was fair to say this is an isolated case in a rare breed of cow but accepted it was of concern.

He said tests would be done on other cows which may have shared the same feed as the dead cow and tracing will be done to establish if the animal had calves and they will be tested and possibly destroyed.

Agriculture and food officials in government have been contacting counterparts in countries where the big trade deals have been signed in the last 18 months, including the US, China and Japan.

Mr Coveney revealed Ireland only secured the "negligible risk" status on its beef and dairy herds last week but that the big trade deals were agreed when Ireland still had "controlled risk" status.

"I'd be hopeful that actually people would see this as proof of a very robust testing system in Ireland," he said.

Reports on BSE cases in Ireland show in 2013 there was one case, three in 2011 and 2012, two in 2010, nine in 2009 and 23 in 2008.

The disease was first diagnosed in cows in Ireland in 1989.

BSE is more commonly referred to as mad cow disease and a link between it and the degenerative variant CJD was accepted in 2001 by the World Organisation for Animal Health.

It is believed to have spread into cattle herds via animal feed containing infected material, possibly offal that included brain or nervous system tissue from animals that died with the disease.

It is a fatal progressive neurodegenerative disease which can be transferred from animals to humans and was discovered in 1985.

Ireland took many precautions to protect its multibillion beef export trade in the 1990s including banning all meat and bonemeal products from the animal feed chain.

Elsewhere, there is a special tracking and monitoring system for the national herd and all cattle are screened before slaughter at abattoirs.

An approved test for BSE is also carried out on all cattle over 30 months.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland said there is no public health risk from the dead cow.

"This case demonstrates that the BSE control measures in place are effective. This animal did not enter the food chain and therefore does not pose a public health risk," it said in a statement.

Eddie Downey, president of the Irish Farmers' Association, reiterated the official position that the discovery highlighted effective monitoring and controls in Ireland.

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

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