Dáil Éireann - Volume 561 - 13 February, 2003

Written Answers. - Bovine Diseases.

  64. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of cattle who died from botulism in 2002; if he is satisfied that humans are not at risk from bovine botulism disease; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3860/03]

  Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): In 2002, there were 36 suspected outbreaks of botulism on farms and 147 deaths of cattle attributed to botulism reported to my Department's central veterinary laboratory or regional veterinary laboratories. Botulism is not a notifiable disease under the Diseases of Animals Act 1966. It is caused by a bacterium called clostridium botulinum that causes harmful effects by producing a toxin. There are five types of the botulism toxin, A, B, C, D and E. Types C and D are common to cattle. Bovine botulism can be contracted by contact with contaminated decomposing organic material such as poultry litter which contain dead poultry carcasses when spread on land grazed by cattle.

  While humans may be affected by botulism, it should be noted that the specific toxins implicated in the conditions in humans are not those normally associated with the condition in cattle. It is also generally accepted that humans are resistant to the types of toxin that affect cattle. Furthermore, these toxin types are poorly absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract and the toxins themselves are inactivated by heat treatment. The risk to human health from consumption of milk or meat from cattle on farms with cases of botulism, therefore appears to be remote. However, as a precautionary measure, farmers are advised to wear gloves, to wash their hands thoroughly after handling poultry litter and to avoid unnecessary contact with the material. My Department has also, by way of a press release drawn the attention of farmers to the botulism problem and has urged them to take precautionary measures when handling poultry litter material. Furthermore, my Department has written to dairy processors advising them about the condition and asking them to distribute an information-advisory note entitled, Good Farming Practice with regard to Spreading Poultry Litter [849] on Land, to the dairy producers supplying milk to them. In the same way, poultry processors were also circulated with a similar information-advisory note. An information note on botulism for veterinary practitioners and instructions for practitioners when dealing with suspected cases of botulism on farm have been circulated to private veterinary practitioners by district veterinary offices and copies of good farming practice with regard to spreading poultry litter on land are available to farmers from district veterinary offices.