Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle O’Neill announced that compulsory testing for Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) virus in new-born calves came into effect earlier this week.
Addressing industry representatives at Stormont, Minister O’Neill outlined how the BVD eradication programme will improve profitability and protect trade opportunities for farmers across Northern Ireland.
She said: “The BVD eradication programme begins today (Tuesday, March 1) with compulsory testing for bovines, including still-borns and abortions. This will help to ensure that herds reach their full health potential, which in turn will increase profitability for herd keepers, whilst protecting trade opportunities for farmers across the north.
“I accept some farmers may be concerned about initial costs to be incurred by testing their herd and removing Persistently Infected (PI) animals. However, there is strong evidence to indicate that the financial gains which can be made by herd keepers through eradicating BVD can outweigh the initial costs by a ratio of 10 to 1.
“The interval between announcing my decision in November last year and the legislation coming into force today has allowed time for the industry body Animal Health and Welfare NI (AHWNI) to make the necessary operational arrangements and for herd keepers to use up any stock of any standard cattle identification tags that they may have acquired, prior to purchasing the new BVD tissue sample enabled tags.”
Minister O’Neill said that the aims of the legislation are consistent with the commitments given in Going for Growth and that there would be considerable disease control benefits. She also welcomed the partnership working across industry and DARD in striving to eradicated BVD.
She added: “It is heartening to see so much cross industry support for this initiative, including from both the meat and dairy sectors, as well as those more directly involved in the process, such as tag suppliers and manufacturers. All of these important stakeholders have a key interest in the BVD Eradication Programme and its successful outcome.
“This legislation will ensure that the requirement on our herd keepers here to tag and test will be better aligned with those in the rest of Ireland and that this development will be a significant step towards our long-term aim of eradicating BVD from the herd in the north.
“This is, I hope, an early example of fruitful partnership-working between my Department and industry. For the first time industry here through AHWNI, will lead in the implementation of the legislation relating to a production disease. While production diseases are the responsibility of the industry more widely and herd keepers in particular to resolve, we in government can provide encouragement and practical help and support when it makes economic sense to do so.”
The Ulster Farmers’ Union says that moving into the compulsory ‘Tag and Test’ phase under the bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) eradication scheme is a positive step towards the eradication of this disease within the Northern Ireland livestock industry.
“As of the 1st of March, all herd owners must now take part in the ‘Tag and Test’ scheme. This means calves born must be identified with BVD tags. This is a long overdue development which is positive for the entire industry,” said UFU deputy president, Ivor Ferguson.
To maximise national herd health and improve farm profitability, the UFU is encouraging farmers to dispose of persistently infected (PI) animals as soon as possible.
“BVD severely impacts animal health. Choosing to rear a PI animal brings additional disease risks, feeding costs and vet bills on farm and estimates suggest that this disease costs the farming industry in Northern Ireland in excess of £20 million a year. We want to see this burden reduced and the ‘Tag and Test’ scheme is a big step in the right direction,” added Mr Ferguson.
The UFU says tackling BVD will ultimately improve profitability and protect export trade opportunities. It says it is hopeful eradication can be achieved cost-effectively by farmers collecting ear punched samples to test for the disease and subsequently remove any persistently infected animals quickly to reduce disease spread.