The suspension of beef exports to China following a case of atypical BSE identified in Ireland has been described as "a real blow" to Irish farmers.

“The suspension of Irish beef exports to China, a market that only reopened to us earlier this year after a three-year suspension, is a real blow to farmers here," Sinn Féin spokesperson for agriculture Claire Kerrane has said.

This market, she said, offers huge potential for growth and is only slowly getting back on its feet.

“We need this to be examined by Chinese authorities and dealt with very quickly. We can be proud of the very high standards we impose here when it comes to testing. The fact this was identified in itself is testament to the systems we have in place," she said.

No risk to food safety

She argued that it is important to reiterate that atypical BSE is not a risk to food safety.

“Due to our high testing standards, Ireland has the lowest risk rating possible from the World Health Organisation for Animal Health.

“While this is now a matter for the Chinese government, there is a responsibility on the Minister for Agriculture to engage and to do whatever he can to ensure a speedy reversal of this decision.”

Special circumstances

President of the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) Pat McCormack has called on the Department of Agriculture to stress to the Chinese authorities the "special circumstances" around this BSE detection.

"The detection and subsequent actions actually vindicated the safety of the Irish food supply chain," which he maintained was the most stringent to be found anywhere.

“Obviously, we are concerned about this and while we can take satisfaction in the way the problem was detected and flagged, it’s another interruption into a trade that’s been stop and start for several years," he said.

Farmers, he added, need that beef trade to China and it’s up to the Department to stress to the Chinese the special circumstances around this specific case and the age of the animal concerned.

"The idea that this could drag out into another two-year ban or whatever is both unnecessary and is really hindering the momentum that we want to develop where Chinese buyers and customers will automatically look for us trusting in our quality," McCormack said.