Written Answers. - Bovine Diseases.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

46 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps he has taken to deal with bovine botulism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18941/03]

Botulism is not a notifiable disease under the Diseases of Animals Acts. However, samples from animals may be submitted for testing to my Department's central veterinary laboratory or regional veterinary laboratories at the discretion of a private veterinary practitioner or on request by a herdowner through his or her private veterinary practitioner. Recently, the attention of farmers was drawn again to the botulism problem and advice was given on precautions which should be taken.

Botulism 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 carcases when spread on land grazed by cattle. The recently adopted EU Animal By-Product Regulations (No. 1774/2002) forbids the spreading of organic material other than farmyard manure on pasture land. This would include chicken carcass material which must be removed from litter before spreading.

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, wash their hands thoroughly after handling poultry litter and avoid unnecessary contact with the material.
Last year, my Department wrote to dairy processors advising them about the condition and asking them to distribute to their producers an information/advisory note entitled "Good Farming Practice with regard to Spreading Poultry Litter on Land". 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 was also circulated to private veterinary practitioners by district veterinary offices and copies of an information/advisory note entitled Good Farming Practice with regard to Spreading Poultry Litter on Land are available to farmers from district veterinary offices. My Department is currently taking steps to again remind those in the relevant sectors of the preventative measures that need to be taken.