Ireland has moved a step closer to regaining negligible risk status with respect to BSE, commonly referred to as "mad cow disease". 

In 2019, Ireland lost its negligible risk status after an atypical case of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) was found in a 14-year-old cow in Tipperary. 

The country was then downgraded to controlled risk status. As a result, Irish beef exports to China were suspended. 

The World Organisation for Animal Health, or OIE, announced that its Scientific Commission for Animal Disease has decided that Ireland now meets the requirements to be recognised as having a "negligible risk". 

Final approval will be sought when the OIE Assembly of Delegates meet in May 2021. Within that time other countries have 60 days to request further information regarding the Commission's decision if they choose to do so. 

It is a significant development for Ireland, which exports 90% of beef it produces. 3,000 tonnes of Irish beef were exported to China alone last year, before the export suspension was announced. 

The Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue, welcomed the Commission's decision saying that Ireland can "look forward with reasonable confidence towards achieving this status which reflects very significant commitment by all stakeholders". 

Minister McConalogue added that "negligible risk status will support our continued efforts around international market access and assist in opening new trade opportunities in respect of Irish beef products". 

It is understood that the Department is hopeful that negligible risk status will help to restart beef exports with China. 

BSE affects adult cattle. It attacks the brain and central nervous system of the animal and eventually causes death. 

The disease can affect humans, in this case it is known as CJD.

People who have developed CJD are suspected to have eaten BSE infected meat.