O’Neill offers assurance of protection

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill

Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill says her department has robust measures in place to protect Ulster farms in light of the suspected BSE case in the south.

“My department has been in contact with our counterparts in the south and we are being kept informed of the ongoing situation in Co Louth,” she said. “I will also be speaking with Minister Simon Coveney to discuss the issue. We are now awaiting details of the confirmatory tests following DAFM’s investigation. I understand that the animal was not presented for slaughter and did not enter the food chain.

“DARD has in place robust and rigorous control and surveillance measures around BSE.”

DUP MLA and Stormont Agriculture Committee chairman William Irwin said it would be a concern if it was confirmed to be BSE, especially as the Republic of Ireland had only recently been granted a ‘negligible risk’ status by the World Animal Health Organisation.

“This is certainly concerning and if a case is confirmed it must be rigorously investigated by the Irish DAFM [Department of Agriculture and the Marine] in terms of the source and all steps taken to reduce any potential for a spread of this disease,” he said. Everyone within the industry on both sides of the border will be keeping a very close eye on this developing issue, he said.

DUP MEP Diane Dodds said: “This is a major blow to the Irish Republic just days after a key world health organisation declared the Republic of Ireland (ROI) as being effectively BSE-free. It is estimated that this week’s suspected case, if confirmed, will put BSE-free status back six years.

“While the Republic’s Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney alongside Board Bia have rushed to reassure costumers that this is an isolated case and that they don’t expect trade to be affected it is certainly a worrying development. In Northern Ireland, DARD must ensure that farmers are protected from any potential risks or being associated with the suspected case, given that we share a land border with the ROI. Like the horse-meat scandal we must ensure consumers are aware of the clear distinction between the two countries and protect our industry.”

Sinn Fein Louth TD Gerry Adams said: “While we hope that the tests will be negative it is imperative that the minister moves quickly to provide reassurance to the farming community.”