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Vigilance will keep BSE threat at bay


Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney

Damien Eagers

Simon Coveney

Whoever said that "perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did" wasn't talking about Irish farming, but they could've been.

Just a week ago, there was considerable relief as the possibility of BSE in Ireland was knocked back to "negligible risk". Therefore, the news of a suspected case on a farm in Louth has come as a bolt from the blue.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney was right to highlight the fact that the discovery was testament to the efficacy of our vigilance and intensive screening measures.

He was also correct to move swiftly to calm fears, putting the discovery in context by insisting that there was "absolutely no human risk" as, crucially, the animal had not entered the food chain. "We have very, very rigorous systems. And of course in our factories, certainly no animal can be slaughtered with BSE. We have vets supervising that fully," he said. Even so, as the Taoiseach Enda Kenny noted, the news is "a disappointment, to put it mildly".

BSE, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, attacks the brain and central nervous system of the animal and causes death. So it is an especially cruel blow to beef farmers coming within days of Ireland's BSE status being upgraded from "controlled risk status" to "negligible risk status" on the basis that there had been no case since 2013.

There is no cause for alarm. Stringent procedures are already in place, and whatever the results, there is no immediate reason for trade to suffer.

The upside is that the very fact that the suspected case was detected is hard evidence that our safety controls are effective. Nonetheless, it is important that reputational risk be managed and that all our trading partners are kept completely informed.

Since 1989, when BSE was first diagnosed in Ireland, preventive measures and checks have been in place. These were greatly intensified when in the mid-1990s the variant CJD, which is a fatal brain disease in humans, was connected to BSE.

As a result of this scrupulous vetting, we can say with confidence that only healthy animals are allowed into the food chain.

Irish Independent