Department issues Bluetongue alert after 'huge' rise in cattle imports

Bluetongue outbreaks (red dots) reported in Europe between 1st of January 2018 and 23rd of January 2019.
Bluetongue outbreaks (red dots) reported in Europe between 1st of January 2018 and 23rd of January 2019.
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

A small number of cattle importers and farmers risk introducing the animal disease Bluetongue into the national herd by continuing to purchase and ship cattle from continental Europe during the summer, the Department of Agriculture has claimed.

The level of cattle imports from mainland Europe, where Bluetongue is widely prevalent, this summer has increased four-fold, the Department pointed out.

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A letter issued by the Department's National Disease Control Centre warned that the rise in animal imports during July dramatically increased the risk of introducing the disease.

"In July and August of 2018, the number of cattle imported from mainland Europe was 36. In the month of July alone this year, that number stands at 135. This represents a huge increase from last year," the letter stated.

Bluetongue disease is caused by a virus and can affect all ruminant animals, including cattle, sheep, deer etc. Midges become infected by biting infected animals such as imported animals carrying the Bluetongue virus. These infected midges then spread the disease to other ruminant animals through biting. The Department appealed to farmers, pedigree breeders and livestock traders not to import animals from mainland Europe during this high-risk period when midges are active.

"At this time of the year, midges are widespread in Ireland and Europe in very high numbers.

"Therefore, this is a particularly high-risk period for the entry of the disease and subsequent spread through the midge population. Once the disease enters the midge population it cannot be controlled," the Department letter explained.

"DAFM is concerned that the small number of individuals importing cattle from mainland Europe at this time of the year are greatly increasing the risk of Bluetongue disease entering Ireland," the Department maintained.

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"If an outbreak of Bluetongue were to occur here our agricultural export markets would be severely impacted and the control measures required by the EU would have a significant impact on the day-to-day running of Irish livestock farms," it cautioned.

A high proportion of the animals imported at this time of the year is pedigree stock sourced from top-end breeding herds on the continent.

Bluetongue is prevalent in herds across much of Europe.

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