Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

Suspected 'mad-cow' case to set industry back years

Cattle (stock photo)
Cattle (stock photo)
Our beef and dairy industry and exports in numbers
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney

Darragh McCullough, Louise Hogan and Daniel McConnell

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney moved to quell fears over the impact on the country's €2.2bn beef industry, as a probe got underway into the cause of a suspected case of BSE on a dairy farm.

It comes just days after a key world animal health organisation declared that Ireland was effectively BSE-free.

However, the first potential case of 'mad cow disease' since 2013 will now set the country's BSE-free progress back by six years.

Mr Coveney swiftly moved to stress the rare breed dairy cow in Co Louth cow appeared to be an "isolated" case, and they had made contact with Ireland's valuable beef export markets to inform them.

The Department of Agriculture's Chief Veterinary officer, Martin Blake, admitted he was 80pc certain tests would confirm that the cow was Ireland's first case of BSE in more than two years.

Mr Coveney said the discovery of the cow in routine testing emphasised the robust system in place in Ireland, as he stressed there was no "risk" to human health.

Bord Bia said it is confident that this isolated case will not adversely impact on the reputation of Irish beef among its European and international customer base, with half a million tonnes of beef worth around €2.2bn exported each year.

However, the body charged with selling Ireland's multi-million euro food industry abroad, pointed out Ireland still retained its 'controlled risk status' which had allowed Ireland to "achieve access to the US, Japan and to secure the recent lifting of the beef ban in China".

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It comes just months after Irish beef returned to US menus for the first time since a ban was introduced over fears of BSE 16 years ago. The five-year-old cow was part of a 120-cow herd belonging to a family who have lived on their farm near the small village of Louth.

Described by locals as running a "spick and span" operation, it emerged it is the second time their herd has been affected by the disease.

Department of Agriculture records show that the farm was depopulated due to the discovery of a BSE case in 2002. It is understood the family subsequently invested in a rare breed of dairy cow.

It is believed that the mother of the infected cow was imported from abroad, although investigations into the exact history of the cow is on-going.

The cow was tested on Tuesday through the department's ongoing surveillance after it died on the farm and results were provided to the Department on Wednesday night.

Mr Blake said the probe into the cause of the case would likely take several weeks.

Movements of animals into and out of the farm will be restricted for the duration of the investigation, but milk from the herd will continue to be collected by the local dairy processor, Lakeland Dairies.

"There is no risk to human health stemming from this case, either in terms of the meat or milk," Mr Blake stressed.

"The cow was a 'downer' cow, that died on the farm over the weekend. She was brought to the local knackery, where the routine BSE tests that apply to every animal over 48 months of age that dies on a farm were carried out," he said.


Confirmatory tests will now be carried out on the same animal in the department's laboratories at Backweston, Co Dublin, the results of which should be available within a week.

It is likely that other farms will also fall under this investigation as the department officials strive to cull out any animal related to the infected cow and contact them abroad. It should avoid a complete cull of the original herd.

The president of the Irish Farmers' Association, Eddie Downey, said the case was detected due to the levels of controls in Ireland but he does not believe it will impact on Ireland's reputation as a food nation or affect the price of beef.

John Comer of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association said there was a very low level of BSE in the national herd and the worst case scenario was that we would return to 'controlled risk status' for BSE.

Irish Independent