March 29, 2002 The Irish Times by Sean Mac ConnellIreland's EUR1.2 billion beef trade could face serious restrictions because of the continuing rise in BSE figures, which increased again this week by a further seven cases.
Ireland is currently listed as a Grade 4 country by the OIE, the Paris-based international organisation which monitors animal and human health trends.
This means that Ireland has fewer than 100 cases of BSE per million animals over 24 months old for a 12-month period. The latest figures available show the incidence risk per million animals over 24 months of age is running at 62.37 and rising.
Ireland is third in the league of European countries, which is led by Britain on 192.64 and Portugal with a risk level of 122.5. This means they cannot export beef or cattle except in very controlled circumstances.
However, the huge jump in cases being identified here by increased surveillance of animals not destined for human consumption, could push Ireland into Grade 5 with Portugal and Britain.
A Department of Agriculture Food and Rural Development spokesman said yesterday it was aware of the situation and was monitoring the situation.
He stressed, however, that there were encouraging trends in the BSE figures as no animal born after 1996 had been found to have the disease.
He pointed out that the new cases were being found mainly in animals which were ill or had been injured and were not bound for human consumption. He said all other countries had experienced the same increases with heightened surveillance.
The additional seven cases reported this week brings to 118 the total for the first quarter of this year and makes the three-month total the highest on record.
In the corresponding periods in the previous two years, there were 42 cases last year and 35 in the previous year. The additional cases bring to 953 the total here since the disease was first identified in 1989.
Earlier this week a sub-committee of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland reported that culling cattle to curb BSE would be of no added food safety value provided all existing controls and regulations are strictly complied with.
The sub-committee did not, however, look at the benefits of a cull other than for food safety reasons and did not consider the impact of a cull on trade where our international customers are extremely sensitive to the incidence of the disease.