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Farmer clinging to 20pc chance cow does not have BSE


The McArdle farm in Co Louth where a suspected case of BSE has been identified

The McArdle farm in Co Louth where a suspected case of BSE has been identified

Damien Eagers

The McArdle farm in Co Louth where a suspected case of BSE has been identified

The farmer whose dairy cow is suspected to be the first case of BSE in the country in two years has pinned his hopes on the "20pc chance" that the test will prove negative.

As the Department of Agriculture worked to trace the potential cause of the suspected case and reassure people there was "zero health risk", Joseph McArdle was continuing the day-to-day job of looking after his 120-cow dairy herd.

At his farm outside Louth village, Mr McArdle told how he had worked for many years to build up the rare-breed Rotbunt herd of brown-and-white dairy cows.

"A lot of time and effort has gone into it," he explained, as the herd lay chewing the cud in the fields around the yard.

"We don't know yet what it is. There's still a chance," said Mr McArdle, a bachelor farmer whose brother Colm McArdle also works on the neat and tidy farm.

The Department of Agriculture's chief veterinary officer Martin Blake said they believed there was an 80pc likelihood the test results will prove positive for BSE.

"Well, if there is an 80pc chance it is, there's a 20pc chance it's not, isn't there?" said Mr McArdle. "If I was a betting man, and there was 20pc, there would still be a chance."

Mr McArdle said he was simply counting down the time until the test results were returned within a week to 10 days.

As the herd continued to be milked, neighbours, friends and other farmers were eager to stress that it was a "well-run operation", known locally for being a clean and tightly run dairy farm.

"They are very hard-working, all the paperwork is intact, they've great traceability on everything, they've receipts there for everything. They're very upset. They love the animals," said one person who knows the McArdle family.

It's a second blow to the McArdle family as the farm was impacted by BSE in 2002.

After that, they travelled to Germany where they opted to purchase a number of Rotbunt cows, which are well-regarded on the Continent for their high fertility rates.

A Louth county councillor said the area had "huge empathy" for the family. "They are a very highly respected family and highly reputable family," councillor Declan Breathnach said.

"I suppose on the positive side it shows the regime implemented on these farms works in that this was picked up so quickly."

Yesterday, Bord Bia's chief executive Aidan Cotter was busy working the phones to some of the key markets in the 70 countries that import more than 500,000 tonnes of Irish beef each year, helping to drive the €2.2bn industry.

However, it was "business as usual" as the markets appeared to be showing little reaction to the potential BSE case.


Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said it was unfortunate timing, as the potential case was detected through the department's surveillance regime just a week after Ireland's BSE risk status was changed from 'controlled' to 'negligible'.

It was believed the changes to Ireland's BSE status would have been worth €25m a year to the meat processing sector.

However, Meat Industry Ireland said it should not impact on the international market access for Irish beef.

"Unfortunately now, because of this case we might go back to having a controlled risk status. But don't forget that was the basis of all the trade relationships we have now and in particular the ones we've developed in the last few years," said Mr Coveney.

He also stressed there were "zero" health risks at the Department's animal welfare conference.

"We'll still have all the trading partners we had yesterday, we'll have them today, tomorrow, next week and next month. But of course our reputation is everything in the food industry and we'll be fully transparent."

It took just minutes for the Department of Agriculture officials to trace the three offspring of the cow through the fully traceable system.

"We probably know more about our bovine herd than our people in Ireland," said Mr Coveney.

"This is a hangover from a historical BSE problem, we will have the odd isolated case," he said. "They are happening all over Europe as well."

He said the investigators were making "good progress" in the probe into the cause of the suspected case, with all potential reasons, including feed, being examined.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the suspected outbreak of BSE in Ireland as a "bitter disappointment", but he remained positive about the export market.

"We have informed all the countries that buy Irish beef and they are very happy with the standard and the quality of what they got," he said.

Irish Independent