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Mad cows no long cross-border carcasses

February 15, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN – An European Union decision to allow Northern Ireland to resume exporting beef beginning last Monday will mean a considerable security saving along the border, where special patrols have been operating to control cattle smuggling since the British “mad cow” disease ban was imposed in March 1996.

Special army, garda and customs patrols backed up by veterinary inspectors have impounded 1,441 cattle from Northern Ireland. The operation has cost millions of pounds in overtime pay.

The cattle seized have been turned into meat and bonemeal and destroyed.

The decision to open up the Northern Ireland beef trade was agreed in principle by EU Agriculture Ministers in March, but its implementation was delayed pending a final inspection of slaughtering and beef processing procedures by EU officials.

Only deboned beef from cattle aged between 6 and 30 months from herds which have been certified as having no cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy for the last eight years will be eligible for export.

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In addition, the entire production chain from slaughtering to final dispatch has to take place in Northern Ireland in centers approved by EU inspectors.

Exports are likely to build up slowly as so far only two processing plants have been cleared to handle beef for exports.

Before the ban, some 56 percent of beef produced in Northern Ireland was exported in a trade worth about _230 million sterling a year.

The EU is expected to lift the export ban on beef from England, Scotland and Wales later this year.

To date, more than 170,000 British cattle have been diagnosed as having contracted the disease.

Because Northern Irish cattle were left to graze on grass rather than given feedstuff, the rate of BSE has been much lower than in the rest of Britain.

BSE was first recognized in British cattle in the mid-1980s. It is thought to have developed as a result of the remains of sheep infected with the related disease scrapie being ground up and used in cattle feed.

Farms in Northern Ireland also have a computer-based registration system that made it easier to track animals that had contact with BSE-infected herds.

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