New virus 'could shut down our livestock industry'

BLUETONGUE disease would have a far greater impact on the country than foot and mouth - effectively shutting down the country's livestock industry - Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan said yesterday.

If it spread to Ireland there would be a ban on the movement of all animals to slaughter on other farms, and they would have to be kept indoors at dawn and dusk because those were the hours the disease was transmitted, she said.

The minister voiced her concerns as a third animal tested positive in Britain for the disease.

The midge-borne virus was discovered near Lowestoft, Suffolk, the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed.


The first two cases were found on a farm near Ipswich.

Ms Coughlan said she was "very, very seriously" concerned at the spread of bluetongue from continental Europe to Britain, but thankfully there was already a ban on animal movements from Britain because of foot and mouth.

Because bluetongue was transferred by midges rather than from animal to animal it was difficult to control and a slaughtering out policy would not work, with a vaccine or very cold weather the only real hopes.

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"I don't want to have any scaremongering, I think the most important thing is that farmers brief themselves and veterinarians brief themselves on the signs to look out for," said Ms Coughlan.

Global warming did appear to be a factor in its spread as bluetongue was a sub-Saharan disease that had moved to Spain and become endemic, then north into the rest of Europe.

"I don't want to have a Doomsday scenario in talking about inevitabilities, but people will have to appreciate it's in the realms of possibility no matter what policies we put together, it's very difficult to stop a midge going from one part to another."

On FMD there had been several more cases within the surveillance zone in England and it was important that an all-Ireland approach was kept in place.

To this end, yesterday the minister held discussions with Northern Ireland Farm Minister Michelle Gildernew.

Meanwhile a survey by the Irish Farmers Association of 1,340 visitors to the Ploughing Championships revealed that 91pc wanted a ban on Brazilian beef imports because of FMD and poor food safety controls.

"The results send a resounding message to Minister Coughlan and the EU Commission that people reject the double standards that allow Brazilian beef imports into Europe," said IFA President Padraig Walshe.

The results were a landslide rejection of EU policy on Brazilian beef and Ms Coughlan could not ignore the depth of public feeling, the IFA said.

Nine out of 10 people surveyed also felt the Food Safety Authority of Ireland had failed in its duty to enforce compulsory labelling on the origins of beef on restaurant menus.

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