Saturday 25 March 2017

The Yates Anthology: Disbelief as BSE back to haunt us

Michael Noonan
Michael Noonan
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

If I ever wrote a dissertation, it would be called 'BSE: Ireland 1996', the most impactful nightmare I've experienced, as agriculture minister at the epicentre of the crisis.

My reaction to the news of the probability that a five-year-old rare breed cow had the disease was one of incredulity. There's now no mystery about the cause and spread of BSE. Only by digesting meat and bone meal, or through genetics, can bovine animals contract BSE. The comprehensive ban on this protein source as an animal feed 19 years ago, plus the removal of all SRM (Specified Risk Materials - offals of spinal-cord and brains) from the food chain, meant that BSE would be eliminated from the Irish national herd; all consumers of Irish beef would have no public health risk of CJD. Over time, emergency over.

Chief Veterinary Officer Martin Burke must establish quickly what caused this Rotbunt cow's infection of prions in the brain. Minister Coveney's confirmation this herd previously had BSE and the animal or its mother were imported from the continent are critical leads in the investigation. It's absolutely true this is an outlier incident, but in order to put a fire blanket of containment around this solitary bushfire, a credible sustainable explanation of cause must be forthcoming. Source of feedstuffs and animal traceability are key focus points.

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