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BSE: Everything YOU need to know


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

Here is everything you need to know about BSE.

Q. What is BSE?

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is a disease that affects adult cattle. BSE attacks the brain and central nervous system of the animal and eventually causes death.

Commonly known as 'Mad-Cow Disease', BSE has a long incubation period. This means that it usually takes four to six years for cattle infected with BSE to show signs of the disease, such as disorientation, clumsiness and, occasionally, aggressive behaviour.

Q. Where does BSE come from?

BSE was first confirmed in cattle in the UK in 1986. The first case in Ireland was confirmed in 1989, when there were 15 cases confirmed. Most experts agree that BSE was most likely spread by cattle eating feed that contained contaminated Meat and Bone Meal (MBM). It was incorporated into cattle feed until it was banned in the 1990s.

The practice of feeding MBM to cattle has been banned in Ireland since in 1990.

Q. What danger is BSE to people?

BSE only develops in cattle, but it belongs to a family of prion diseases, several of which can affect humans. The most commonly known disease in this group among humans is Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). This is a rare and fatal form of dementia that normally occurs in individuals between the ages of 40 and 80.

CJD is not a new disease among humans, but in 1996, scientists discovered a new strain of CJD that occurs predominantly in younger people.

More recent evidence has shown that the protein that accumulates in the brains of individuals with this new form of CJD is similar to the protein found in cattle infected with BSE, rather than that found in classical CJD. Because of this discovery, the new illness in humans is known as variant CJD or vCJD.

Some individuals who have developed vCJD are known to have eaten potentially BSE-infected meat products.

Q. How is BSE being controlled in Ireland ?

BSE controls in place in Ireland since 1996 are very strict and there are layers of robust measures to ensure maximum consumer protection in relation to BSE.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) bases its decisions upon the best scientific data and knowledge, and develops inspection and audit controls to ensure maximum consumer protection in relation to meat and meat products.

These are some of the risk reduction measures that are in place:

* The Cattle Movement Monitoring System (CMMS) which tracks the location of all animals in the national herd.

* Ante-mortem examination of all animals prior to slaughter at all abattoirs and verification of each animal's status via the CMMS.

* The screening of all cattle over 30 months of age using an approved test.

* Removal of all high-risk Specified Risk Material (SRM) at the abattoir.

* Extensive checks by veterinary inspectors to ensure that the removal of SRM has been thoroughly carried out.

* On-going audit by FSAI of the effectiveness of controls at abattoirs and meat retail outlets.

* The total exclusion of all meat and bone meal products from the animal feed chain.

* The restriction of all local abattoirs to the slaughter of animals under 30 months of age since January 2001.

Q. What is Specified Risk Material (SRM)?

SRM are the parts of cattle most likely to carry BSE and these must be removed. These parts are:

* The skull, brain, eyes and spinal cord

* The tonsils and intestines of bovine animals of all ages


*Information compiled by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland

Online Editors