Northern Ireland has been recommended for BSE negligible risk status by the World Organisation for Animal Health’s Scientific Commission.

The recommendation comes after the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) submitted an application for negligible risk status to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in 2016.

BSE or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy is one of a group of diseases of the brain which can be fatal and was made a notifiable disease in Northern Ireland in 1988.

The Scientific Commission’s recommendation that Northern Ireland should be recognised as an area having negligible risk for BSE will now be considered by the OIE World Assembly in May.

At the moment Northern Ireland has a controlled risk status for BSE, while both the Republic of Ireland and Britain are categorised in the same risk status level.

It is hoped that a move to negligible risk status will help improve the North's global image as a disease-free area and possibly facilitate access to new markets across the world for its exports.

A range of livestock, food and feed controls have been in place since the late 1980s which have been very effective in controlling BSE, according to DAERA.

There are strict rules laid down for the prevention, control and eradication of such diseases, it added.

The Scientific Commission’s recommendation is encouraging news and emphasises how close Northern Ireland is to receiving official BSE negligible risk status, according to the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

An application for negligible status has been a priority for the UFU since late 2015, UFU Deputy President, Victor Chestnutt, said.

The UFU has been pressing DARD, now DAERA, since December 2015 to prioritise this application, seeing it as a way to dismantle costly BSE controls that are no longer proportionate to the risk.

While the current controlled risk status opened many markets, the negligible risk status would send 'a more positive image' of Northern Ireland's animal health status to countries our local beef industry wants to access, he added.

“Our industry has worked hard to get into a position where we can supply a product that meets world-leading standards.

"However, we have been held back by the stigma associated with BSE, as we try to access new markets,” Chestnutt said.

Northern Ireland has the right credentials for BSE negligible risk status and it is hoped the outcome will be positive at the OIE World Assembly in May which is to be held in Paris, he added.