BSE has been a drag on the Irish beef industry since the last century, but achievement of BSE negligible risk would close that chapter.

Ireland has previously achieved negligible risk status for a couple of weeks back in 2015 – before the discovery of a single BSE case in Co Louth meant an immediate return to the controlled risk status where we have been since.

“Negligible risk” is the best status that can be achieved by any country in relation to BSE with “controlled risk” next best. At this stage, most of the world is negligible risk with just England, Wales, France, Canada and Greece as well as Ireland being in this category.

The World Health Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) reviews the list annually in May and Ireland’s status will change this year. Northern Ireland and Scotland have both already secured negligible risk some time ago.

Benefits experienced in factories

The upgrade to negligible risk won’t impact directly on farmers, but there will be an indirect benefit as it will assist meat processing.

It will mean that there will be less material that is high specified risk, reducing disposal costs and it also enhances market access chances for Irish beef, particularly in Asian markets which are still sensitive to BSE.

Reopening China

It will be hoped that this will quickly lead to a reopening to the Chinese market for beef access which has been closed since the discovery of an atypical case of BSE in May last year.

This is the most lucrative developing beef export market in the world that has experienced rapid growth over the past decade.

Irish beef was in the process of becoming established when business was suspended with the BSE discovery last year and it is expected to quickly become a 30,000t/year market when Ireland is trading normally with China.

It should also be the basis for extension of the approval Ireland has for China beyond frozen boneless beef and include bone in cuts of beef which are popular with Chinese buyers and a market that Ireland had been excluded from.

Ireland has become established in Japan under our current controlled risk status, but having negligible risk along with reducing Japanese tariffs should see Irish beef sales grow substantially to that market.

Having negligible BSE risk status should also enhance the efforts to open the South Korean market for Irish beef, one of the world’s top five importers and whose main suppliers are currently the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Keeping negligible risk status

Retaining negligible risk status depends on not having even a single case of BSE. As already mentioned, Ireland lost this status in 2015 because of the discovery of that single case in Louth and discovery of just a single case of typical BSE would immediately mean a return to the controlled risk status.

If there was an atypical case as was discovered last year, then it doesn’t impact on BSE status.