As many as 427 BVD positive animals have been retained across 283 Northern Ireland herds, despite mounting pressure to rid farms of the animals.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union warned such retention was proving to be a "major stumbling block" against progress in eradicating the disease in Northern Ireland.

The comments were made following the analysis of recent BVD programme figures showing that at the start of November, 427 BVD positive animals in 283 herds had been kept on farms more than five weeks after they had received a positive result.

Limited options

Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) is a highly contagious viral infection thought to affect as many as 7% of cattle herds in Northern Ireland. The disease is spread by persistently-infected (PI) and transiently-infected (TI) animals.

The options are extremely limited for PI cattle in Northern Ireland, with both marts and abattoirs now refusing to take the animals.

For most of them, the only remaining option seems to be home slaughter; however, it is difficult to finish an animal suffering from BVD as the disease affects production.

The region's chief veterinary officer has even warned that farmers who breach testing requirements could be prosecuted.

UFU deputy president, David Brown said: “Our farmers need to be commended for helping us move closer to achieving our goal of eradicating BVD in Northern Ireland, as figures have dropped significantly.

"However, a small but crucial number of farmers are continuing to keep animals that have tested BVD positive on their farm.

This not only puts the health of their entire herd and farm business at risk, but they are also giving the disease a chance to spread.

“In line with veterinary advice, we urge all farmers who have tested cattle and discovered one or more BVD positive animals, to remove them as soon as possible.

"This will help minimise losses and prevent the disease from spreading. We would also like to see the retention of positive animals brought in as a non-conformance within the NI Farm Quality Assured Scheme at the earliest opportunity to encourage a speedy removal.

"Eradicating BVD in Northern Ireland is within our reach but we need everyone committed to achieving it.”