Animal Health and Welfare NI (AHWNI) has confirmed that additional Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) control measures are likely to be required shortly for farmers from Northern Ireland exporting breeding cattle, or cattle to be finished, to the Republic of Ireland.

These measures have been introduced in EU legislation to promote the competitiveness and trading of animals by preventing and eradicating specific animal diseases, including BVD.

The changes will be implemented in light of the progress that has been made in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) BVD programme and the fact that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) intends to apply for official recognition of the programme in 2022.

Levels of BVD

Levels of BVD have fallen dramatically in the Republic of Ireland on the back measures that have been introduced over the past few years, notably financial supports, herd restrictions, veterinary herd investigations and follow-up testing.

In contrast, overall progress in reducing the virus in Northern Ireland over the past year has levelled off, with a small increase in numbers of initial positive results detected since February 2021.

Once the Irish programme is approved, cattle from Northern Ireland may need to have additional blood testing carried out within particular time frames, or they may need to spend 21 days in approved quarantine facilities, depending on whether the exporting herd is given a BVD-free herd status.

To attain BVD-free herd status, one option under the EU regulation is that the establishment must not have had a confirmed case in the previous 18 months and that all cattle must have a direct or indirect negative status as a result of virus antigen testing.

If BVD-free herd status is recognised in exporting herds, then the pre-export requirements are likely to be less significant and to incur lower costs. Almost 75% of all NI herds meet criteria previously set for low risk herds.


Northern Ireland’s livestock industry, through the BVD Implementation Group, has said that it continues to make requests to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) for a range of measures to be provided under current and new legislative provisions.

BVD vaccinated animals will still be permitted to move until BVD-free status is achieved (possibly in 2023) by the authorities in the ROI. However, once country-level freedom is achieved, BVD vaccinated animals will no longer be eligible for export.

According to AHWNI, other restrictions on vaccination protocols may be introduced, adding that tt is important to be aware that vaccination is a vital part of disease control at present in many herds.

Prevention of BVD

Vaccination can prevent transplacental infection of the foetus with the BVD virus and is an effective method of preventing spillover of the virus into subsequent crops of calves.

It is advised that BVD vaccination should not be stopped without consulting with the farm’s veterinary practitioner, to talk through any risks to the herd that may still be present, such as the risk that the virus is circulating in the herd and the chance that the BVD virus could be introduced on to the farm.

Farmer action

Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) chief executive, Ian Stevenson, has reiterated the need for farmers to take action to deal with persistently infected cattle.

He commented: “It makes no sense for farmers to keep persistently infected (PI) cattle within their herds. The only option is to have these euthanised and disposed of. They represent a significant threat of disease spread and must be removed from the system.

The plants will no longer slaughter PI cattle and those farmers deciding to retain these cattle will be suspended from membership of the Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme until the matter is rectified. 

“However, if it turns out that voluntary measures do not resolve the PI-related issue, then I see no reason why statutory instruments cannot be introduced to deal with the problem.

“It is also clear that farmers can only reduce the risks that are within their control and it is therefore critical that DAERA acts on the BVD Implementation Group requests for additional statutory instruments without delay," Stevenson concluded.