Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 11 Dec 2002

Vol. 559 No. 2

Ceisteanna – Questions (Resumed). Priority Questions. - Bovine Disease Controls.

Billy Timmins


33 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of animals born after 1997 that have tested positive for BSE; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25960/02]

Four animals born in 1997 have been confirmed as BSE positive. An animal born in 1999 has also been confirmed with the disease. This animal was discovered when the herd cohorts of a 1993 born infected animal were depopulated and tested.

The confirmation of BSE in the 1999 born animal prior to the onset of clinical signs is a positive indication that our comprehensive active surveillance programme is effective in identifying such animals. This programme, together with ante and post mortem tests and the removal of SRM provides assurance to consumers that all potential sources of infectivity will be identified and removed prior to entry to the human food chain.

The general trend of the disease is encouraging in that the age profile of animals confirmed with the disease is increasing. In 2002 less than 2%, five cases, of cases have been identified in animals less than six years old at the time of diagnosis, compared to 16% in 2001 and 40% in 2000. In addition, in the period August to November 2002, inclusive, the number of BSE cases identified, at 102, is down by more than one third on the corresponding period of 2001 when it was 157. Therefore, while isolated cases in animals born after 1996 are disappointing, the important factor is the overall trend.

This trend illustrates the effect the controls introduced in 1996 and 1997 are having on the rate of infectivity. The increasing age profile of animals in which the disease is confirmed is a positive indication that these additional controls are having the desired effect and that the incidence of BSE will decline further as older animals leave the system.

Are we dealing with Question No. 33 on its own?

I appreciate that when we get information about a BSE infected animal the consumer response can be an over reaction to the difficulty. The industry and the Department have made great efforts over recent years to solve the problem. However, does the Minister agree that the four animals found to have BSE, which I assume include the bull born in 1999, are a matter for concern? We may say this is an indication that the measures we have in place are fine but it is worrying that some can get through the net.

The Department's documentation states that we have almost foolproof mechanisms in place. Have we established how these four animals, particularly the 1999 animal, became infected? What additional measures, if any, have we put in place to plug the loophole whereby these animals became infected?

Scientific bodies world-wide suggest that the source of infectivity is the recycling of meat and bonemeal. That practice was stopped for ruminants early in the 1990s and in 2000 for all farmed animals. There was considerable improvement in the processing of meat and bonemeal in 1996 and 1997. The time and temperature combination used was improved and the system was upgraded. A lot of effort went into removing cross contamination where there might have been a potential source of infectivity, for example, where poultry or pigs were fed on a farm or, in the case of provender mills, where feed was processed for ruminants and non-ruminants. Additionally, on farms where meat and bonemeal may have been fed legitimately to non-ruminants up to the year 2000, there could have been some material caked on to the sides of bins and silos.

It is difficult to get precise reasons for the disease. There is a major learning curve world-wide on the source of infectivity and how it is transmitted. In Ireland we implement and introduce every new scientific and technological development. For example, the new testing system has only been available in the last two years. We introduced it immediately it was validated in Europe.

I assure consumers that a comprehensive range of measures remain in place for the control and eradication of BSE. If adjustments are deemed necessary in light of developments they will be made. The current controls include, not alone the testing and control systems and the elimination of meat and bonemeal but the removal of the specified risk material. That ensures that only muscle meat gets into the human food chain. There is compulsory notification of the disease, ante and post mortem inspections at all meat plants and whole herd depopulation.

Representations have been made to me that only the infected animals should be taken out when one or two in a herd go down but we implement whole herd depopulation. There is tracing and culling of birth cohorts and progeny of BSE infected animals. There is also a comprehensive active surveillance programme among all animals over 30 months of age, all casualty animals over 24 months of age and all fallen animals over 24 months of age. With that catalogue of controls there can be total assurance for consumers.

May I ask a brief supplementary question?

We are out of time on this question. The question should be brief.

I have been given to understand that feed silos have not been checked. Does the Minister agree they should be checked? Does he agree that the ban on meat and bonemeal for non-ruminants should have been introduced in the mid 1990s? Can he assure me that no meat and bonemeal are being fed to any animals at the present time?

We must move on to the next question. We have exceeded the time by one minute already.

With respect, I only had 20 seconds while the Minister had two and a half minutes.

I will just make a brief reply to the Deputy. All those controls are in place. We introduced the measure in regard to the feeding of ruminants and non-ruminants before the EU deemed it important. Not alone do we introduce measures when asked to do so by scientific bodies but we are ahead of those bodies in bringing them into place.