The decision by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to recognise Ireland as having a negligible risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has been welcomed by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue.

Negligible BSE risk status is the lowest country risk status possible.

The recognition was adopted by resolution of the World Assembly of Delegates of the OIE at the organisation’s 88th General Session.

The first case of BSE in Ireland was identified in 1989. The incidence rate peaked at 333 cases in 2002 and case numbers declined rapidly thereafter following the introduction of enhanced feed controls in 2001.

Ireland was previously recognised as having negligible BSE risk status in May 2015, but the identification of a classical BSE case in a fallen animal soon afterwards resulted in a reversion to controlled BSE risk status.

The official recognition of animal health status of OIE members is important for international trade and constitutes one of the most important legal links between the OIE and World Trade Organization (WTO).

The categorisation of BSE risk status only applies to classical BSE. ‘Atypical BSE’ forms are excluded from the scope of the categorisation, because they are believed to occur spontaneously in all cattle populations at a very low rate.

Commenting, the minister hailed the reinstatement of Ireland’s negligible BSE risk status, “as a ringing endorsement of Ireland’s robust animal health, food and feed safety controls”.

“It is a testament to the commitment, expertise and dedication of all stakeholders, who have invested enormous efforts over the years to control and eradicate this disease,” he said.

“I am hopeful that this announcement will support our world-class beef farmers and the wider sector.

The next step in the process is to give practical and legal effect to the OIE decision at EU level, which will allow a significant reduction in the list of certain tissues derived from bovines which have to be systematically disposed of as specified risk material.

Minister of State Martin Heydon added: “This is very welcome news in terms of my ongoing efforts and those of my department to gain access to new markets and to retain existing market access for our beef exports.

“I, along with my officials, will immediately be highlighting this very positive development to the relevant competent authorities in key international markets.

Concluding, Minister McConalogue stated that, “The OIE decision is an important further endorsement of the reputation of Ireland’s animal health controls internationally.

“I hope that today’s announcement will assist in opening new trade opportunities for the safe, quality produce from our beef farmers.”