State may lose ‘negligible risk’ status if BSE case confirmed

World Organisation for Animal Health thanks Minister for being upfront

If the suspected case of BSE in a cow in Co Louth is confirmed Ireland is likely to lose its "negligible risk" status for the fatal brain disease, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said.

He told the Dáil the State may revert to “controlled risk status” for a number of years with existing controls remaining in place. Ireland was awarded the controlled risk status in May 2008, seven years before its negligible risk categorisation, because of the controls and surveillance system in place.

But the Minister said the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) wrote “to thank us this week” for being upfront about the preliminary suspected case in a five-year-old Rotbunt cow.

Results of confirmatory tests are under way and expected either at the end of this week or early next week.


Mr Coveney said it was because of the level of transparency – the case was notified once the animal tested positive – that markets for Irish beef are very calm.

There had been no impact on prices “and we are pretty confident that all of the new markets we have opened and the ambition that we have for growth in those markets this year and into next year can still move ahead as planned”.

Stressing that “openness and transparency is key”, he insisted that “Irish beef is the safest and most sustainable beef in the world, and it continues to be, despite the case”.

If the case is confirmed it will be the first in the State since 2013. There were three cases in 2012, three in 2011 and two in 2010, a dramatic reduction from a peak of 333 cases in 2002.

Legal requirements

The Minister said Ireland’s BSE surveillance and controls were consistent, effective and in line with legal requirements and best international practice. It was recognised that atypical cases of BSE might arise from time to time but in typical BSE cases the risk period was accepted to be in the first months of life.

The epidemiological investigation into the case is focused on events of five to six years ago “and may take some time to complete,” he told Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd and Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív.

Mr Coveney said animals born and reared in the herd of birth at around the same time as the suspect animal, and its progeny, “have now been traced and will be removed from the food chain and tested as a precaution”.

Mr O’Dowd said the detection of the positive case showed the checks and balances in the system are robust and stand up to transparent investigation. He pointed to figures that of 139,000 farms in the state, over 110,000 are involved in rearing cattle and the beef industry is worth €2 billion annually.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times