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Suspected BSE case threatens Ireland's new disease status

The Department of Agriculture is investigating the discovery of a suspected case in a five-year-old cow in county Louth.
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Ireland’s new BSE status is under threat after the discovery of a suspected case of the disease in county Louth, potentially Ireland’s first case in two years.


On Thursday, the Department of Agriculture announced the identification of a suspected BSE through its on-going surveillance testing of fallen stock. The five-year-old dairy cow was not presented for slaughter and did not enter the food chain.


If confirmed, this will be the first BSE case found in Ireland since 2013. Tests are being undertaken to confirm the presence of BSE, with the results expected in approximately one week.


The big question is how, if confirmed, the animal became infected at a time when BSE seemed to be a thing of the past.


The Department said it was now undertaking a full investigation into all relevant factors in this case, which will include an examination of the birth cohort and progeny of the cow involved.


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

Controlled risk status

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


Ireland would revert to ‘controlled risk status’ which applied up to last week and, the Department stressed, still 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.


Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said the immediate priority is to identify how the cow contracted the disease.


“There’s only two possibilities really – either it was contracted via the animal’s feed, which could have happened five years ago, or it was contracted either before the animal was born or spontaneously at birth,” he said.


He said that the cow’s three calves would be destroyed and subsequently tested for BSE.


“It is unfortunate that the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) last week put Ireland on clear status as regards our beef after 11 years of being seen as a controlled risk, and in all likelihood that will revert once again,” he said.


“But that should make no difference to our trade partners who have been contacted and reassured that the situation is in hand.


“Anyone who knows anything about BSE knows that it is possible for there to be an outlier undetected somewhere.


“You’re looking at one case here, after more than seven million tests conducted on animals since 2002.”


Irish Farmers Association president Eddie Downey said the isolated case ‘shows the effectiveness of the monitoring and control systems in place in Ireland’.


He said the traceability and monitoring controls in Ireland were ‘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, he said.


“The case involved a five-year old cow sent to a knackery for disposal from a Louth dairy farm and the Department of Agriculture is awaiting tests to confirm the situation, which will take up to a week,” Mr Downey said.





Ireland's BSE controls

Control measures in place at Ireland's slaughter plants, include:

  • All animals presented for slaughter are subjected to ante-mortem examination by veterinary inspectors to ensure only healthy animals are allowed into the food chain.
  • Specified risk material’, where the BSE infectivity resides in potentially infected animals, is removed from all slaughtered bovines of differing ages as follows:
  • All ages: tonsils, intestines and mesentery
  • Over 12 months: skull (including eyes and brain) and spinal cord
  • Over 30 months: the vertebral column and associated tissues

BSE in Great Britain

  • The last confirmed case in Great Britain was discovered in October 2014 in Devon in a cow born in 2001.
  • Discovered through the fallen stock survey, it was the only recorded case in 2014. Three cases were discovered in Great Britain in 2013.
  •  In total there have been 180 cases discovered in Great Britain in animals born after the August 1996 ruminant feed ban was introduced.  
  •  The latest figures for Great Britain show there were no positives tests from 54,000 cattle tested between January and May this year.


Ireland is not the only country to be troubled by an isolated BSE outbreak.


Investigators in Canada are looking into an outbreak in Alberta in a beef breeding cow discovered last winter on a farm near Edmonton.


The case does not appear to have affected exports. 


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