BVA endorses commitment to disease eradication

NEWLY elected British Veterinary Association (BVA) President Peter Jones has highlighted the absolute necessity for Northern Ireland to push forward with a proactive campaign, leading to the total eradication of Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) and Johne’s Disease.

He made these comments while speaking at this week’s BVA Northern Ireland dinner.

“In September we warmly welcomed the formation of Animal Health and Welfare NI and praised industry for taking the lead in this initiative to deal systematically with production animal diseases,” the BVA President continued.

“BVD and Johne’s disease are two of the major challenges in cattle health and productivity and so we are pleased that AHWNI has identified them as priorities.

“The financial and environmental benefits of reducing, and ultimately eradicating, these two diseases will be immense. We were pleased to note the minister’s strong support for the initiative when it was launched and we hope that the financial and legal support it needs from the department will soon be forthcoming,” he continued.

“Tackling two endemic diseases such as this at the same time is an ambitious project to say the least. It will have to be carefully programmed and it can only succeed through a true partnership between industry and government.

“Of course the veterinary profession also has a key role to play in the delivery of the control programmes. And I have been heartened to hear of the enthusiasm with which our members have embraced the recent briefing events ahead of the roll out of the farmer meetings.

“Another major strength of Animal Health and Welfare NI is its whole island approach, recognising that the island is a single epidemiological unit and working with Animal Health Ireland to share expertise and hopefully to achieve shared disease-free status.”

The BVA President went on to point out that the increasing movement of humans and animals for leisure and commerce across the globe clearly presents the livestock farming sectors with disease challenges.

He added: “But a more recent, and maybe more difficult, threat is that posed by climate change and its effects on vector-borne diseases that spread from mainland Europe.

“The recent emergence of Schmallenberg virus in northern Europe, and Bluetongue before it, is a perfect illustration of the need for robust surveillance systems, excellent research facilities, and an understanding of the risks involved in sourcing animals.

“Last month we learned that Schmallenberg had reached Northern Ireland. While this news was not surprising we know that it will have come as a blow to local farmers, as it has done to each of the farming communities it has hit. We are constantly learning more about the disease and it is essential that vets and farmers remain vigilant and report any suspicious cases in order to help us build a more complete picture.

“What we do know is that Schmallenberg has an incredible capacity to spread, moving a long way and over bodies of water in a relatively short period of time.

“When the virus reached the UK at the start of 2012 the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute was quick off the mark to begin its work on a test, demonstrating the need for a responsive and efficient laboratory resource.”

Turning to the issue of TB eradication Peter Jones confirmed that he was very interested to learn of Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill’s proposals to work towards a catch/test/vaccinate or cull policy in respect of badgers.

He added: “Clearly this is a very attractive proposal that recognises the role of wildlife in spreading TB in cattle, whilst being sensitive to the understandable concerns surrounding large scale culling.

“The policy was ruled out in Wales because the local conditions made its viability questionable. But the conditions here in Northern Ireland are different and we hope these differences will enable the full potential of this logical policy to be realised.

“One important outcome of the work will be to better understand field-based diagnostics in badgers, which is a tremendous challenge, and how their correct deployment can contribute to an holistic bovine TB control programme.

“The veterinary profession is committed to playing its role in supporting TB control and eradication measures, and to learning from this new information.

“Meanwhile, we look forward to the report of the Agriculture Committee on bovine TB, which I understand we are expecting very soon, and to which we were pleased to contribute evidence.”