The beef industry has received a significant boost following the announcement that Northern Ireland has achieved negligible risk status for BSE.
Notification of the risk classification upgrade to negligible risk status, the safest level, was confirmed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) at a meeting in Paris over recent days following an application from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) submitted in 2016.
Welcoming the announcement, Chief Veterinary Officer Robert Huey said:
“This is a significant achievement that has been many years in the making. Northern Ireland has had no cases of BSE since 2012 and this announcement is testament to the tireless efforts of our beef producers and finishers, our red meat businesses, vets, government officials and many others who have worked together to maintain a system of interlocking safeguards against BSE that protects our public and animal health.
“The move to negligible risk status will help improve the global image of Northern Ireland as a disease-free area and could assist in opening up access to new markets across the world for our premium exports.”
Conall Donnelly, CEO of the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association, welcomed the OIE decision. He said: “This is a strong endorsement of the health standards of the Northern Ireland herd. This will pay dividends in terms of our international reputation and will be a significant factor in helping to further develop our access to global markets.
“As an industry we will be seeking to work closely with government to capitalise on Negligible Risk Status and ensure the greatest possible benefit.”
Ulster Farmers Union, deputy president, Victor Chestnutt, said the granting of official BSE negligible risk status to Northern Ireland will be welcomed by livestock farmers, adding: “This will give Northern Ireland beef a more positive image on the world stage. It should help us gain access to key target markets, such as China, USA, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.
“Beef exporters believe securing access to these markets could put an extra £12 million a year into the supply chain. In countries we already trade in, it opens up the possibility of amending access agreements. This could boost trade in offals, again adding value to the local supply chain,” he says.
BSE negligible risk also creates an opportunity to reduce processing charges to farmers, as less Specified Risk Material (SRM) will need to be disposed of, leading to savings of up to £1.2 million a year.
“Reducing the amount of material now sent for destruction, and using more of the carcass, will also reduce the carbon footprint of the beef sector,” said Victor Chestnutt.
Responding to the approval British Veterinary Association President Gudrun Ravetz said: “Scotland and Northern Ireland’s achievement of the lowest risk level status for BSE is testament to the years of hard work and joined-up efforts of the respective governments with their farmers, industry and vets – who are pivotal to the success of any disease control programme.
“We must of course continue to work together to keep up high standards of biosecurity and surveillance in order to safeguard animal health, which is vital to both countries’ economies.
“This is excellent news for Scotland and Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry, especially as we look ahead at the trade deals which will need to be forged in the coming year or two, further demonstrating that our beef is produced to a high quality and standard of animal health for consumers in the UK and across the world.”
Upper Bann Westminster candidate David Simpson said the announcement recognises the strong standard of health that the beef industry in Northern Ireland provides.
He added: “As a result of this decision, it is important that we increase our focus into markets outside of the UK and to take advantage of the endless potential that lies before us. I have long advocated the case for negligible risk status; and I want to pay tribute to the commitment of the industry to achieve this momentous decision.”