‘Negligible’ impact of exports from BSE case, MSPs told

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The discovery of a BSE-infected cow in Aberdeenshire is expected to have a “negligible” impact on exports, the Scottish Rural Affairs Minister has said.

Mairi Gougeon told MSPs it would be 11 years from the birth of the animal infected with so-called mad cow disease before the country could return to its previous risk status.

The case of BSE, known in full as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was found at a farm in the Huntly area last week.

A movement ban has been put in place at the farm as investigators try to determine its source.

Officials have stressed there is no risk to public health, and the case shows the surveillance system is working effectively.

Mairi Gougeon
Mairi Gougeon said early investigation showed no link to animal food (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

She said: “From the very limited investigations that we’ve been able to do so far – we await the outcome of the further investigations which will hopefully provide some more conclusive information that I can bring back to Parliament – we haven’t particularly identified any particular problem in the feed.”

She stressed these are preliminary investigations and other studies are not expected to reveal results for a month or more.

Ms Gougeon added: “As far as we’re aware at the moment, we’re determining that there will be a negligible risk (to beef exports from Scotland).”

She said in countries in a similar situation observers “haven’t seen any impact on their trade or on their wider beef sector”.

The Minister said the case would mean Scotland’s loses its negligible risk status and returns to controlled risk status, the same as exists across the UK.

She said: “This is a process that we can reapply to be a part of it but it takes 11 years from the birth of this affected animal before we will then be able to apply for the negligible risk status again.

“This is something that we have also seen in other countries across Europe that have been affected by BSE, such as in the Republic of Ireland and in France, that shortly after gaining negligible risk status they also had isolated cases of BSE which meant that they lost that again shortly after.

“This could well be the tail end of the epidemic that we saw in the 1990s.”

Millions of cattle were culled in the UK during that epidemic and strict controls were introduced to protect consumers after it was linked to a fatal condition in humans called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).

Prior to the discovery of the latest case, Scotland had been BSE free since 2009, and the last recorded case of the disease in the UK was in Wales in 2015.

The farmer whose cow was found to have BSE has said he had taken pride in doing everything correctly and it was “heartbreaking” to be told the dead animal had the disease after routine testing.

The cow’s calves will be slaughtered this week and tested for the disease on a precautionary basis.

Scotland’s chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas has said she believes the disease was not transmitted, and occurred spontaneously in the affected animal.

She said the case is isolated, under control and will not affect the food chain.

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