Farm Ireland

Saturday 25 November 2017

Agents deny calf imports disease risk

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Livestock shippers have rejected allegations that increased calf imports represented a serious disease risk for the country's national cattle herd.

Calf imports into Ireland are currently running 41pc higher than last year, according to the latest Department of Agriculture statistics.

Figures show that 2,890 calves under 42 days of age were imported into Ireland up to last Friday, compared to 2,037 for the same period last year.

But former Veterinary Ireland council member Bill Cashman has warned that farmers who imported animals from outside of Ireland ran the risk of importing disease problems too.

"People who are importing these animals should provide an indemnity or insurance policy to the rest of the industry that they are not going to bring in diseases that could damage our export trade," Mr Cashman said. "The more you move animals around, the more you move disease around," the Cork-based vet warned.

The imported calves consist of both dairy and beef bred animals from Northern Ireland, Britain and Romania.

They include calves being bought by over-quota dairy farmers to drink excess milk on farms, as well as the usual calf trade for veal and beef production. Livestock importers have insisted that imported calves were required to meet the same stringent health criteria that Irish exported livestock are subject to.

Wicklow-based agent Seamus Scallon maintained that all imported animals were subject to testing by Department of Agriculture vets.

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"The same veterinary guidelines apply all over Europe because we trade in a single European market," Mr Scallon said. "If there was a health problem with any of these imported calves, the Department of Agriculture would stop them."

Carlow-based livestock agent Adam Buitelaar also dismissed the disease risk claims as "rubbish".

"All imported animals have a health certificate to comply with Irish disease rules," he insisted. "The rules have been put in place by Ireland to protect Ireland."

David Graham, programme manager with Animal Health Ireland (AHI), said Ireland, as an exporting nation, needed to take a balanced view on livestock imports.


He said herd owners should avoid imports unless absolutely necessary. Mr Graham advised farmers who were importing animals to get as much information as possible about the health status of the herd of origin.

"Ideally, farmers should get veterinary certification from the herd of origin, screen for BVD and IBR and quarantine the animals for four weeks on farm," Mr Graham said.

"Above all, discuss matters with your own vet, who knows the disease or health status of your own herd," he urged.

Meanwhile, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has confirmed that imported animals will have to be slaughtered separately from Irish-born and reared animals because of European beef labelling rules.

MII spokesman Cormac Healy admitted that some of the larger factories had expressed reservations about slaughtering small numbers of imported cattle.

Mr Healy said it would be a logistical nightmare for individual animals to be presented for slaughter mixed in with larger batches of Irish-born cattle.

"If arrangements could be made to batch the animals together for individual plants on a particular day, that would make it easier," he said.

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