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Q. What is BSE?

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as 'mad-cow disease', is a disease that affects adult cattle. It attacks the brain and central nervous system of the animal and eventually causes death.

It can take four to six years for cattle infected with BSE to show signs of it as it has a long incubation period.

Cattle can become disoriented, show a lack of coordination, suffer head tremors and sometimes show aggressive behaviour towards other animals or humans.

Q. Where does BSE come from?

BSE was confirmed in Ireland for the first time in 1989, when there were 15 cases identified. However, the disease is officially recognised in the UK since 1986.

Most experts agree that BSE was most likely spread by cattle eating feed that contained contaminated meat and bone meal (MBM). Meat and bone meal was banned in cattle feed in Ireland in 1990.

Experiments have shown that cattle can contract BSE if they are fed infected brain tissue. A ban was introduced throughout the EU on feeding MBM to all farm animals in 2001.

Q. How is BSE being controlled in Ireland ?

Strict BSE controls are in place in Ireland since 1996 and all Specified Risk Material is removed.

Q. What is Specified Risk Material (SRM)?

The SRM includes parts of the cattle most likely to carry BSE. These are removed and destroyed.

It includes:

The skull, brain, eyes and spinal cord.

The tonsils and intestines.

Q. A suspect case is found. What happens next?

When a report of an on-farm suspect animal is received, the animal is examined by a veterinary inspector from a Regional Veterinary Office. In abattoirs, animals are examined ante-mortem for signs of diseases, including BSE, by a vet.

The herd in question is immediately placed under official restriction and quarantined.

The entire carcass is transported to a Regional Veterinary Laboratory and examined by Veterinary Research Officers of this Department. It will ultimately be destroyed. The brain is taken to the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory for examination.

Q. What takes place on a farm where a suspect case is found?

An inventory of the herd and a preliminary epidemiological investigation is carried out.

If BSE is diagnosed, the carcass of the original animal is destroyed.

A full investigation takes place, including an examination of farm records and a search of the farm to determine if any evidence of potential exposure to meat and bone meal can be found.

Q. What happens to animals that may previously have lived on a farm with a confirmed case?

The investigation will include an examination of the birth cohort and progeny of the cow involved.

Cohort animals are those who would have shared the same farm as the BSE positive animal when both animals were less than a year old. They will be traced.

Q. How long will we have to wait to find out the result?

Confirmatory tests are being undertaken and results will be available in approximately one week.

Irish Independent