Dáil Éireann - Volume 576 - 03 December, 2003

Written Answers. - Animal Diseases.

  70. Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the guarantees he has that cattle and sheep infected with BSE are not being sold for human consumption before they develop clinical symptoms. [29337/03]

  Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):The measures for the control and eradication of BSE in Ireland are among the most comprehensive in the world and are multilayered. Even if one protective layer of control is breached there are several more layers to ensure that consumers are protected.

  The focus of BSE controls is the prevention of infection primarily through a ban and on the use of meat and bonemeal in feed for cattle and sheep. Public health is also protected through the removal and destruction of potentially infective materials, the specified risk materials, from all bovine and ovine carcases intended for the human food chain or the animal feed chain. The rapid testing of cattle at slaughter provides added protection.

  The eradication of BSE from the national herd will provide the best possible protection for consumers. The change in the age profile of animals confirmed with BSE in recent years clearly shows that the enhanced feed and SRM controls, introduced in 1996 and 1997, have had a dramatic effect on the number of infections since that time. Less than 2% of cases diagnosed in 2002 and 2003 were under six years of age at the time of diagnosis compared with 16% in 2001 and 40% in 2000. In the period from 1 January to 27 November there were 168 cases or 46% less than the 313 cases in the corresponding period in 2002. That trend is continuing.

  Rules requiring the removal of SRMs ensure that the tissues that can potentially harbour BSE infectivity are removed from carcases at slaughterhouses and sent for destruction. Even where animals have passed through the other layers of [520]control, indicating that there is no evidence whatever to suggest they have BSE, all such material is removed before the carcase passes into the human food chain. This is the most significant current control measure from a consumer point of view.

  Since 1 January 2001 Ireland, in common with other member states, has had a comprehensive system of targeted active surveillance for BSE in place. Under current EU legislation all fallen and casualty animals over 24 months of age and all slaughter cattle over 30 months of age are tested for the disease using a rapid test validated by the EU Commission. In 2002 more than 688,000 tests were conducted and the number to date for 2003 is 614,756. The carcases of cattle over 30 months of age are not permitted to enter the human food chain unless the animals have tested negative for BSE.

  Ireland's handling of all aspects of BSE is subject to ongoing scrutiny, from various perspectives, by independent bodies such as the EU's Food and Veterinary Office, the Food and Safety Authority of Ireland and others. Our safety measures have been recognised as comprehensive, rigorous and responsible.