Importers warned to consider the risks of bluetongue

Livestock importers are being reminded to think carefully before importing animals and to avoid sourcing from areas known to be infected with bluetongue disease wherever possible.

The disease is still present in large areas of Europe, including France, parts of Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) confirmed recently that live imports continue to occur from some these regions. The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) Animal Health and Welfare Committee is keen to ensure that no disease is introduced into Northern Ireland (NI) with bluetongue remaining on their radar of concern.

The introduction of bluetongue to NI would have severe consequences for the health and welfare of our cattle and sheep. Furthermore, any introduction of the disease would result in widespread movement restrictions, costly disease surveillance and the loss of our disease-free status, which can have a large impact on international trade. Beyond these high-level impacts, farmers must bear in mind that no compensation is available for imported animals removed from herds or flocks due to bluetongue following a post import test.

It is however noteworthy that our members often find themselves considering purchases from European herds as a direct consequence of sizable outbreaks of bovine tuberculosis (bTB). Following a large outbreak of bTB, farmers are often drawn to the continent where they can more easily source larger numbers of animals from a single herd which clearly has other health benefits.

Bluetongue poses a huge risk to the NI industry

In order to continue to protect our herds and flocks, we must be vigilant when importing from high-risk areas and consider is it really necessary to import animals from areas where bluetongue is present. Importers need to be aware of the risk they are exposing the national herd and flock too, and they must consider pre-export testing of animals to be imported from a bluetongue affected area. Such tests should provide clear evidence of the animals’ bluetongue and vaccination status.

Furthermore, upon arrival, the movement of animals will be restricted until the required post-import testing has been carried out. Additionally, any farm found to have bluetongue infected animals present will be placed under strict movement restrictions for a considerable period whilst extensive disease surveillance is carried out.

Our message to all livestock importers is to ensure they have early discussions with their private veterinary practioner and DAERA before importing stock, and to give serious consideration to avoiding purchasing stock from high-risk bluetongue areas.