The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) on Monday announced details of a comprehensive report from its BSE sub-committee looking at strategies to reduce the incidence of BSE in Ireland and whether these would add value in terms of consumer protection over the existing control measures.
The report was prepared following a request from the Minister for Health and Children and was presented to the Department's CJD Advisory Group. The findings of the report suggest that providing all existing controls and regulations are strictly complied with, there is no added food safety value of a cull of older cows in pre-clinical stages of the disease.
BSE in Ireland is confined to a small proportion of older cows in the national herd born before 1998 that had access to contaminated meat and bone meal. The disease in Ireland will decline as these older animals die off or are removed from the national herd. The sub-committee looked at various approaches to accelerating this decline by actively removing subsets of older cows that could be potentially incubating BSE.
The findings suggest that various culling scenarios would achieve a decline in the incidence of BSE, but providing all existing controls and regulations are strictly complied with, the sub-committee concluded that there is no added value of a cull of cattle in pre-clinical stages of the disease for food safety reasons. Additional control measures were introduced in 2001, all of which provide further protection for consumers. These involve enhanced surveillance, checking all animals over 30 months of age with a post-mortem BSE test, and removing the entire vertebral column from animals born before 1998.
Dr Patrick Wall, chief executive, FSAI said:"There are 2.07 million cattle in Ireland born before 1998. While a total culling of these would remove all future clinical and non-clinical cases, our report finds that from a food safety perspective this would have no additional benefit. This finding is based on a situation where there is complete adherence to EU legislation regarding Specified Risk Material (SRM) Regulations and all other food safety measures to ensure food posing a risk does not enter the food chain."
"The sub-committee's remit was to consider whether there were benefits from a cull in terms of consumer protection only. It did not evaluate other reasons why a selective cull might be considered which might include improving Ireland's trading position in international beef markets, where the anxiety level over BSE is high, and reducing the number of herds being depopulated each week in Ireland as new cases of BSE are discovered. The sub-committee did not cost the various culling scenarios which would depend on the salvage value assigned to older cows, the loss of production to the dairy sector as a result in the decrease in cow numbers and any premium prices Ireland could derive from being BSE free," continued Dr Wall.
The FSAI stressed that Ireland has over seven million cattle in the national herd and the incidence of BSE is extremely low and in a bid to reassure consumers the FSAI commented that prime beef animals born after 1998 have not had access to contaminated meat and bone meal. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (DAFRD) has installed aggressive controls to protect both animals and humans from the BSE agent. The FSAI, DAFRD and other agencies involved in policing the food chain are, according to the Irish food safety agency, working closely together to ensure full compliance and maximum consumer protection.