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About BSE in Ireland

BSE IN IRELAND

Following the diagnosis of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) for the first time in Ireland in 1989, a number of risk management measures were introduced. In 1989 legislation was passed which makes it compulsory for veterinary surgeons, farmers and all other persons in charge of bovine animals to notify the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) if they see an animal displaying clinical signs consistent with BSE. In 1990 a ban on the feeding of meat-and-bone meal (MBM) to ruminant animals was introduced. In 1996 and 1997 the BSE control measures in place in Ireland were substantially reinforced following the identification of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. Since that time a series of cumulative risk management measures have been in place, targeted at:

(a)    Disease surveillance and control measures (removing infected animals); 

(b)   Exclusion of specified risk material (SRM) from human food and animal feed chains (removing from all animals, and destroying, the tissues shown to be capable of transmitting the BSE agent);

(c)    Preventing access to MBM by all ruminant animals.

Disease Surveillance and Control Measures:

Under the passive surveillance programme, veterinary surgeons and farmers are alerted to the symptoms of the disease and reminded of their obligations to report all suspect animals. 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 veterinarian. Any animal deemed to be an official BSE suspect is euthanised, and the herd in question is immediately placed under official restriction and quarantined. The entire carcase is transported to a Regional Veterinary Laboratory and examined by Veterinary Research Officers of this Department, pending its ultimate destruction. The brain is taken to the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory for examination using standard histology, immunocytochemistry and western immunoblotting.

An inventory of the herd and a preliminary epidemiological investigation is carried out. If BSE is diagnosed, the carcase of the original animal is destroyed, and a full epidemiological 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.

All cohort animals are traced using the Department’s Animal Health Computer System (AHCS) to where they are currently located, then slaughtered in a dedicated slaughter plant where no meat for human consumption is produced, and their carcases destroyed. Cohort animals are those which would have shared the same farm(s) as the BSE positive animal when both animals were less than a year old, and therefore are at risk of having eaten the same contaminated feed. (Studies have shown that cattle are likely to be infected by BSE by eating feed contaminated by ruminant meat and bone meal in the first few months of life)

Under the active surveillance programme, brain samples are also taken from the carcases of all cattle that die on farm which are greater than 48 months of age, as those below that age have been demonstrated to have an extremely low incidence of BSE. If an animal is detected as positive on the screening test, a similar investigation to that outlined above is carried out. Active surveillance in slaughter plants consists of samples being taken from all casualty and emergency slaughter animals over 48 months of age. Specified Risk Materials (known as SRM, which are the tissues shown to be capable of transmitting BSE infection, including the brain and spinal cord, see next section) are removed and destroyed from bovine animals at slaughter plants regardless of BSE status, and it is this step which ensures that infection is not transmitted.

 

Exclusion of Specified Risk Material from human food and animal feed chains:

The following portions of animals are designated as Specified Risk Material (SRM) and are excluded from the human food and animal feed chains:

(a) as regards bovine animals:

(i) the skull excluding the mandible and including the brain and eyes, and the spinal cord of bovines aged over 12 months;

 (ii) the vertebral column excluding the vertebrae of the tail, the spinous and transverse processes of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar vertebrae and the median sacral crest and wings of the sacrum, but including the dorsal root ganglia, of bovines aged over 30 months; and

(iii) the tonsils, the intestines from the duodenum to the rectum and the mesentery of bovines of all ages.

(b) as regards ovine and caprine animals (sheep and goats)

(i) the skull including the brain and eyes, the tonsils and the spinal cord of animals aged over 12 months or which have a permanent incisor erupted through the gum,

(ii) the spleen and ileum of animals of all ages.

These materials are isolated on slaughter of the animals, permanently stained with Methylene Blue and removed directly to an approved rendering plant, where they are destroyed.

 

Effectiveness of the above measures:

Clear evidence that these measures have been effective is provided both by the upward shift in the age profile of BSE cases observed over the past decade and by a substantial decline in the prevalence of disease again observed over the past decade. The incidence of BSE is expected to continue to decline, as animals born before the introduction of the additional controls in 1996 and 1997 leave the cattle population.

 

 Table 1: BSE cases in Ireland

Year of diagnosis

Passive surveillance

Fallen Stock

Healthy Slaughter

Casualty Slaughter

Cohort, progeny

Totals

2002

108

183

34

4

4

333

2003

40

106

31

4

1

182

2004

31

75

19

0

1

126

2005

9

47

12

1

0

69

2006

5

30

6

0

0

41

2007

4

15

6

0

0

25

2008

3

16

3

0

1

23

2009

0

5

4

0

0

9

2010

0

1

1

0

0

2

2011

0

3

0

0

0

3

2012

0

3

0

0

0

3

2013

0

1

0

0

0

1

2014 to date

0

0

0

0

0

0

Last updated 27 March 2014

Fig 1: Year of Birth of BSE cases in Ireland

added 05.03.12

Since 2006, the majority of BSE cases have been diagnosed in animals that were over 12 years of age at the time of diagnosis. The underlying trend remains positive and the increasing age profile of animals confirmed with the disease indicates that the enhanced controls introduced in 1996 and early 1997 are proving effective.

OIE Certification:

In May 2008, the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health or Office International des Epizooties) officially recognised Ireland as a country with a controlled risk for BSE in accordance with the provisions of Article 11.5.4 of the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code. This classification recognises that Ireland’s regulatory controls are effective, and Irish beef can be safely traded internationally due to the interlocking safeguards described above.

Conclusion:

Policy in regard to the Irish beef sector is designed to ensure a high standard of public and animal health and to provide the strongest possible guarantees to customers and consumers. A comprehensive series of controls is in place in relation to BSE. These controls, detailed above, go beyond what is recommended by scientific evidence or recommended by international organisations.

Ireland's cattle production is predominantly grass based and is based on a largely self-contained national herd. All beef comes from animals that are slaughtered in approved premises, which are subject to official veterinary supervision. Ireland has a high animal health status and its agricultural products have access to the most discerning markets worldwide. Irish beef is recognised as a good product, produced in a clean environment under good animal welfare conditions and in accordance with good standards of animal husbandry.