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Independent.ie

Sunday 4 December 2016

Questions about stringency of BSE testing in non-EU nations

Published 24/06/2015 | 02:30

A scientist dissects brain parts, extracted from cowheads prior to BSE tests in in this 2000 photo.
A scientist dissects brain parts, extracted from cowheads prior to BSE tests in in this 2000 photo.

The incidence of BSE internationally does not tally with patterns seen in Europe in recent years.

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The rigorous testing regimes that have been implemented in Ireland and across the EU have uncovered an underlying level of atypical BSE that appears to be endemic in the bovine population.

These are cases of BSE that are not linked to the feeding of contaminated meat and bonemeal; instead they are ones that occur sporadically and spontaneously within the cattle population.

In the years from 2003-2012 (which is the most recent decade that we have complete data for) the average number of atypical cases was over six, out of a bovine population of approximately 88m.

Contrast this with the six countries with the largest cattle herds in the world. India has a massive 330m head, Brazil has a sizeable 208m.

China stands at 104m, the US has 88m, Argentina 52m, and Australia 28m. Together, they account for over 80pc of the world's total cattle population of 965m.

Despite this, these countries combined reported just two cases of atypical BSE since records of the disease began in 1989.

Out of this group, only the US and Brazil have ever reported finding any BSE cases, either classical (associated with meat and bonemeal feeding) or atypical.

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This means that they account for less than 2.5pc of the global incidence of spontaneous BSE despite catering for the vast majority of the global herd.

In contrast, the EU has less than 10pc of the world's cattle, but accounts for over 95pc of all the cases found of atypical BSE.

This is despite the international organisation for animal health, the OIE, insisting that all the above countries carry out the required testing of fallen animals to qualify for a 'negligible risk' status awarded by that organisation.

The OIE's head of communications, Catherine Bertrand-Ferrandis, said that her organisation's code "requires countries in both the negligible and controlled risk status to have a surveillance program in place based on the current situation of the country regarding BSE.

Surveillance

"Requirements of the code about the surveillance program are based on a statistical model that takes into account the size of the country's cattle population over twenty-four months of age.

"It is designed to achieve an accumulated points target using a weighted value or score based on the likely prevalence of BSE in the animal sampled.

"Surveillance of different kind of subpopulations is included, such as fallen stock, casualty slaughter, and clinical suspects," she said.

Also among the 40 countries currently enjoying 'negligible risk' status, are New Zealand with a national cattle herd of 10m, and Uruguay with 12m animals, both of whom have never reported a single case of BSE, either classical or atypical.

Romania's negligible BSE risk status was suspended in 2014 with the discovery of a BSE case in Chinteni, Cluj.

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