Irish beef exports to China suspended after case of BSE found

Mad cow disease detected in 10-year-old animal that had been delivered for destruction

Beef exports from Ireland to the Chinese market have been suspended after a case of atypical BSE was detected in a cow during recent routine Department of Agriculture tests.

The new case of atypical BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease, was detected by department veterinary officials carrying out tests on a cow last Friday.

The suspension of exports from Irish producers to China has been described as a “blow” to the agricultural industry, as China had been seen as a market for big potential growth.

Previously beef exports to China were halted for two and a half years following a similar case of atypical BSE picked up in May 2020. The access of Irish beef into the country was only permitted to resume from the start of this year, following lengthy negotiations between Irish and Chinese authorities.


The previous suspension of exports had also followed a case of atypical BSE, which is a rare form of the disease that occurs in older cattle populations at a very low rate.

The latest case of BSE had been picked up by department veterinary officials conducting tests on a cow that was 10-and-a-half-years old.

A department spokesman confirmed the case “was identified during the department’s on-going systematic surveillance of ‘fallen’ animals at ‘knackeries’”.

Chinese authorities were notified of the case under a voluntary protocol that has been in place since 2018, when Irish producers were first granted access to the large market.

Senior Government sources said the hope was Irish access to the Chinese market would be restored more promptly than following the 2020 closure.

Coalition figures stressed the current case was linked to a random mutation, unlike presentations of the disease which caused a major crisis in the 1990s.

Cases of atypical BSE are different to what is known as classical BSE, which is related to the consumption of contaminated feed by cattle.

Department officials stated there is no threat to public health in Ireland as a result of the new case, and that the animal did not enter the food chain.

One department source said assessments would be carried out into the case and a detailed report would be shared with Chinese officials. After that point Irish authorities are expected to ramp up efforts to negotiate the reopening of the Chinese market “as soon as possible”, one source said.

However, several sources cautioned that any timeline for the resumption of beef exports would be up to Chinese authorities.

As the market in China was responsible for smaller volumes of Irish exports overall, the broader impact on Irish producers would be manageable, Government sources said. It is expected that there will be disruption to plans to build trade back up with China when the suspension is lifted.

Dale Crammond, director of Meat Industry Ireland, which represents processors, said the sector was “extremely disappointed” at the fresh export suspension. “Our trade to China had really started to ramp up over recent weeks so this news could not have come at a worse time,” he said.

Brendan Golden, chair of the Irish Farmers’ Association livestock committee, said the suspension of exports was a setback farmers “could do without”.

Sinn Féin’s agriculture spokeswoman Claire Kerrane said the news was a “real blow” as there was “huge potential” to grow the market for Irish beef in China.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times