Beef carcasses hanging© Tim Scrivener

Scotland and Northern Ireland (NI) have both achieved the safest status for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) as recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

The new “negligible risk” status secures the reputation of the beef as being of the highest standards, and will be key to accessing important new markets for Scottish and NI exports in the wake of Brexit.

See also: Northern Ireland applies for BSE risk to be downgraded

Scotland has had no cases of BSE since 2009, and NI since 2012. England and Wales continue to have controlled risk BSE status.

Trade potential

Both Scottish and NI officials said the achievement is testament to the “tireless efforts” of beef producers and finishers, red meat businesses, vets and government officials in maintaining safeguards to protect public and animal health.

The NI government said the low-risk status will help improve the global image of the country.

Ulster Farmers Union deputy president Victor Chestnutt said: “It should help us gain access to key target markets, such as China, the US, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

“Beef exporters believe securing access to these markets could put an extra £12m/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 offal, again adding value to the local supply chain,” he said.

Processing costs

Farmers will also now have the opportunity to reduce processing charges, as less specified risk material (SRM) will need to be disposed of, leading to savings of up to £1.2m/year.

Mr Chestnutt added that the reduction in the amount of carcasses that must be sent for destruction will also help reduce the carbon footprint of the beef sector.

Scottish rural secretary Fergus Ewing said: “With Scotland already recognised as officially TB free, this decision further vindicates our reputation for supplying beef products of the highest quality, produced to the highest standards in the world. It also demonstrates the OIE’s acceptance that both our surveillance for, and measures against, BSE are stringent.”

Frank Clark, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW), said: “Today’s decision frees our industry to make full commercial use of Scotland’s high health status on behalf of producers, processors and wholesalers, opening the door to fresh marketing opportunities around the world.”