1 March 2002

Rodgers BSE plea

NORTHERN Ireland agriculture minister, Brid Rodgers, is urging the International Office of Epizootics in Paris to raise the level at which it considers countries to have "low incidence" BSE status.

Any area with over 100 cases per million head of cattle aged over 24-months is deemed to be "high incidence" by the OIE and may only export under the strictest conditions.

But Mrs Rodgers says the criterion is out of date. It was set when the data on the incidence of BSE was based solely on the number of cases reported by farmers.

Referring to the extensive testing required under EU law, she said: "We now have an elaborate system for seeking out BSE even where it is not evident. It is little wonder we are finding more, but the OIE criteria have not been adjusted and it is my view that they need to be."

Two years ago, Ulster was on the verge of regaining its low incidence status, with just six cases recorded in 1999. But now it is way over target again, with an estimated 182 cases last year.

Given that NI has fewer than 1m cattle over 24 months, that figure will have to drop below 77 to meet the OIE criteria.

Mrs Rodgers is working with DEFRA and other member states to get the OIE to revise its criteria, but said it was early days yet. &#42