Animals not tested for BVD to be banned from NI abattoirs

Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture has announced plans to ban BVD untested animals from slaughterhouses in a bid to crack down on those evading testing rules.

The move will come into effect from September 1, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots announced today (July 26).

Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) is a highly contagious viral disease of cattle that can be transmitted as easily as the common cold.

Current estimates put the cost to Northern Ireland at between £25 million and £30 million a year.

Animals identified as persistently infected (PI) were banned from abattoirs in 2018. However, some were getting around the rules by not testing their animals at all.

Up to £5,000 fines for moving untested animals

From September 1, DAERA will take enforcement measures in respect of untested cattle moved in breach of the BVD Eradication Scheme Order (Northern Ireland) 2016 (the BVD Order).

It is an offence to move an untested animal or to have possession of an untested animal that has been moved in contravention of the Order.

It means herdkeepers, market operators and slaughterhouses who accept untested animals may be liable for prosecution.

Any person found guilty of moving or possessing an untested animal could be fined up to £5,000 (or up to £1,000/animal in the cases involving more than five animals).

An untested animal may only move under licence issued by the department or for disposal as an animal by-product.

As part of the enforcement measures, cattle moved in breach of the BVD Order to slaughterhouses will be highlighted on the Animal and Public Health Information System (APHIS) and identified for the official veterinarian to initiate enforcement action that may lead to prosecution.

Minister Edwin Poots said: “Herdkeepers are required to sample calves for BVD within 20 days of birth and send the sample to an approved laboratory within the following seven days.

“The presence of untested cattle of unknown BVD status poses a risk of disease spread both within herds and to other herds.

There is no reason for herdkeepers to risk the spread of disease by failing to sample their cattle.

“This enforcement initiative will encourage herdkeepers to sample their cattle at the earliest opportunity as cattle will be prevented from moving to slaughter and enforcement penalties will be applied to those who breach the ban.”

Welcoming the announcement, Dr. Sam Strain, chief executive of AHWNI, said: “While there has been good progress in reducing the level of BVD, the infection remains a substantial threat to the Northern Ireland cattle industry.

“It is important that herdkeepers know the BVD status of all their cattle. The ban on moving cattle with an unknown BVD status to abattoirs is a welcome and important step highlighting the risk these animals pose and underpinning the need to have them tested as soon as possible.

“Testing can be carried out using a supplementary tissue tag or by a blood sample taken by a vet.”

Union response

Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president William Irvine welcomed the news, calling for further measures to control the disease.

“It is essential to establish whether animals are infected with the BVD virus early in life and minimise any risk of transmission to other animals,” he said.

To maximise on the progress that has been made, the UFU has been engaging with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), requesting the introduction of further measures in a bid to drive this disease to eradication. Farmer cooperation with the BVD Programme has been excellent to date.”

DAERA will issue letters to all keepers with untested animals to explain this policy change and highlight the animals in their herd which need tested.

Letters will also be sent to each Food Business Operator.