Near miss after cattle disease stopped at Northern Ireland border

The Northern Ireland agricultural industry has had a near miss after a cow carrying a potentially economically devastating disease was stopped at customs.

On Friday, the Ulster Farmers' Union announced a case of Bluetongue had been discovered in a heifer imported from France to Northern Ireland, and said if the disease had managed to get a foothold it could potentially cost the local industry £25m.

Bluetongue is a potentially fatal disease which impacts cattle, sheep and goats, as well as domestic animals - although it does not pose a threat to humans.

Symptoms for the disease - which include fever, selling of the face, and a darkening of the tongue - can lie dormant for up to three weeks before presenting.

UFU deputy president, David Brown said, “Fortunately, officials identified the animal early and this shows our post import testing protocols are robust and working well. However, it also clearly shows the potential risk to the Northern Ireland livestock sector when importing animals from high-risk areas."

The animal has now been killed and no compensation paid to the importer.

Northern Ireland is currently registered as Bluetongue free, and will maintain this status despite the incident.

“We cannot afford to become complacent when it comes to Bluetongue," said Mr Brown.

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"Farmers must remain vigilant and ensure they source animals responsibly. The best way to do this – do not import animals from high-risk Bluetongue areas.

"However, if you must import from a Bluetongue affected region, seek additional guarantees from the seller such as requesting pre-export testing to prove effective immunity to the virus."

It is the third case of Bluetongue imported to the UK this year.

“There has never been an outbreak of Bluetongue in Northern Ireland and everyone wants it to keep it that way. It is reassuring the disease was detected quickly and swift action taken,” said Mr Brown.

While Northern Ireland has never been impacted by an outbreak of Bluetongue, between 2006 and 2010 an outbreak of the disease swept across large parts of France and Germany; regions of Britain and Spain; and other parts of Europe. 

Any farmers who suspects an outbreak of Bluetongue is asked to contact the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Belfast Telegraph

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