Dáil Éireann - Volume 548 - 14 February, 2002

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Bovine Diseases.

  4. Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the number of cases of BSE reported to date in 2002; the number of cases reported in the month of January; the counties in which all cases in 2002 were discovered; the number of cases which were discovered in each of those counties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4975/02]

  Mr. Walsh: A total of 42 cases of BSE were confirmed in January 2002. This figure is slightly inflated due to an overhang from the Christmas period of cases awaiting confirmation. To date this year, a total of 49 cases have been confirmed in 17 counties. Details of the counties and numbers involved are contained in the following table.

  A targeted active surveillance programme for BSE began in 2000 with the testing of a proportion of fallen stock and a random survey of cattle eligible for human consumption. This initial programme was extended in 2001. Since 1 July 2001, all cattle over 30 months must be tested for BSE using a so-called rapid test approved by the scientific steering committee of the European Commission.

  Of the 145 cases detected in 2000, 138 were detected by passive surveillance. In 2001, a smaller number, 123 cases of the total of 242, were detected by passive surveillance although a greater number of animals were tested as BSE suspects on the basis of clinical signs in 2001. The [912] entire increase in 2001 is attributable to more intensive active surveillance, particularly among fallen animals, which would not, in any event, have entered the human food chain.

  I am satisfied that a comprehensive range of measures is in place to protect consumers and for the control and eradication of BSE, including compulsory notification of the disease, the depopulation of herds, the tracing and slaughter of birth cohorts, a ban on the use of meat and bonemeal for farmed animals, the removal and destruction of specified risk materials and the testing regime for cattle over 30 months. This is the most comprehensive regime ever to protect consumers and to try to root out this disease.

  Moreover, unlike many other member states whose BSE controls were tightened at the end of 2000, none of the positive animals identified in Ireland to date was born after July 1996 and the percentage of BSE cases in animals aged five years or less was 16% in 2001 compared to 53% in that age category in 1998. This indicates that the enhanced controls introduced in this country in 1996 are working and that the disease should begin to work its way out of the national herd as older animals leave the system.

Details of BSE cases by county in 2002. One additional cohort animal was also confirmed with the disease in 2002.

County

Number of cases

Cavan

4

Clare

2

Cork

9

Donegal

1

Galway

1

Kerry

2

Kilkenny

5

Limerick

3

Longford

1

Mayo

2

Meath

1

Monaghan

6

Offaly

1

Roscommon

1

Tipperary

2

Waterford

4

Wexford

4

  Dr. Upton: The Minister said the figures for January are inflated due to the carryover from the testing process carried out in 2001. That means the number for 2001 must have been deflated accordingly. We must keep a realistic fix on the number tested each month and ensure the positives are attributed to the correct month. Given that there are certain counties where there is a predominance of BSE relative to other counties, does the Minister think it is now realistic to have a targeted cull in those counties?

  Mr. Walsh: There has been some recent speculation about a targeted cull of older animals. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development recently undertook a feasibility study of culls in certain circumstances. The conclusion of [913] this study was that there is no scientific basis for a targeted cull and that no significant human health guarantees would result, provided that the existing control measures are maintained and implemented. This conclusion has been adopted by the CJD advisory committee. Given the increase in the age profile of animals with the disease and as older cattle are removed from the system, I expected that the sooner the older animals were out of the system, the sooner we would eliminate the problem entirely, which is why I initiated the study.

  Dr. Upton: In the past few weeks, two animals in the North of Ireland born after 1996 have been identified as positive for BSE. Are there concerns that such an event could occur here and, if so, what precautions can be taken? There are no obvious explanations for this development. We are inclined to forget that meat and bonemeal have been technically banned in this country since 1990 and have been categorically banned since 1996. The same is true in the North of Ireland and yet two cases involving animals born after 1996 have now been identified as positive.

  Mr. Walsh: The development in Northern Ireland is worrying. We had a ban here in 1990, which was tightened very considerably in 1996 with heat treatment and the lack of cross contamination at farms, mills, etc. Since then we have had a very good run. We are fearful that a number of younger animals could be found to be positive. Fortunately, that has not happened. Some people accuse the Department of being overzealous in terms of our tight regime of monitoring, but I believe it is showing dividends. From the point of view of consumer protection, there are layers of controls and protection that seek to ensure that no contaminated meat could possibly reach the consumer. In particular, there is the removal of the risk material where the contamination resides. Overall, we are going in the right direction and I hope we will continue to do that. The current relatively high level of positive cases are due to the active surveillance of fallen animals and other animals that would not be going into the food system. They should be washed out of the system in the next two years.