Calls for further measures from DAERA as 4 million BVD test mark passed

Animal Health and Welfare NI (AHWNI) has called on DAERA to introduce additional measures to reinforce industry efforts to eradicate BVD in Northern Ireland.

The comments come as latest figures reveal the number of BVD tests carried out by Northern Ireland farmers during the voluntary and compulsory phases of the BVD Eradication Programme passed four million.

Latest analysis from the BVD Implementation Group, convened by AHWNI, indicates that industry advice and actions have driven down numbers of BVD positives being retained, with 43 BVD positive animals alive at present retained in 34 herds for over five weeks. A total of 193 BVD Positive animals were recorded as being alive on 27th June 2022.

However, the figures also show that disease incidence increased for nine consecutive months in 2021, believed to be due to factors including virus circulation within breakdown herds, transiently infected cattle being sold from breakdown herds, movement of virus contaminated material between herds, contact between neighbouring cattle, and fraudulent activity around the identity of BVD Positive calves.

Dr Sam Strain, Chief Executive, Animal Health & Welfare NI (AHWNI)

There are also concerns about potential decreased immunity as BVD vaccination purchases fell by approximately 15% in the first four months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.

Speaking about the latest figures, Dr Sam Strain, Chief Executive of Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland (AHWNI) said there was now a pressing need for additional regulation and enforcement to achieve the goal of BVD eradication in Northern Ireland.

“Overall, farmer compliance with the tag and test requirements of the compulsory scheme has been excellent and the four million figure represents significant and dedicated investment by farmers in the scheme. We would now like to see industry’s efforts being reinforced by the introduction of additional measures from DAERA to achieve eradication.

“The department has indicated that it may implement herd restrictions from April 2023, but we have requested additional specific measures to restrict the movements of pregnant stock and potential ‘Trojan’ animals from restricted herds. We need a full suite of measures put in place as a package.

“The Republic of Ireland is progressing towards BVD eradication, and once it is recognised as such, the requirement to compulsorily test calves’ ear tissue samples will be removed for the majority of ROI herds. We have requested the introduction of herd level BVD statuses in NI to allow potential costs to be reduced for cattle farmers who wish to sell breeding stock to the ROI and other EU Member States.

“Industry’s aim is to eradicate BVD as quickly as possible. Evidence from other countries shows that this can only be achieved with adequate regulatory support from government. We will continue to engage with DAERA to this end.”

Dr Strain also highlighted the sustainability gains that could be realised from eradicating endemic disease. “Tackling endemic disease has a clear impact on farm efficiency by increasing growth rate, reducing days to slaughter, and increasing reproductive performance. This in turn will reduce methane emissions, potentially by as much as 10%. Further benefits include decreased costs of production, decreased need for anti-microbials and improved overall cattle welfare.”