Opinion

Bluetongue is the last problem we need

Recently saw the alarm bells ringing in Northern Ireland in the wake of a heifer imported from France testing positive for Bluetongue.

So here’s the fundamental question: Why is it necessary to import cattle from countries like France? The continent is rife with animal diseases that we don’t need, as the recent Bluetongue debacle has, once again, confirmed.

If we want to improve the genetic potential status of our cattle and other livestock species, then surely the route to go down is either the greater use of artificial insemination (AI) or embryo transfer.

As far as I am aware both techniques come with the clear re-assurance that they do not spread animal diseases. If anything, they act to improve the animal health status of our livestock population.

As a region with a fast-growing food export sector, the United Kingdom (UK) must be ‘squeaky clean’ when it comes to the animal health and disease status declared by the country while doing business with other parts of the world.

All it takes is a sustained outbreak of a disease, such as Foot-and-mouth or Bluetongue, to knock the country’s hard-earned animal health reputation for six.

Despite this week’s developments, the UK remains officially free of Bluetongue. But who know what impact the confirmed disease outbreak – albeit in a single, imported animal – might have on the country’s food export opportunities further down the line?

Securing the business

One potential upside of Brexit is that it will give the authorities across the UK the opportunity to legislate on the terms and conditions under which live animals are imported into this part of the world.

In cases where pedigree breeders can make an argument for the importation of live animals, then this must go hand-in-hand with the introduction of a quarantine arrangement, which an independent body would manage.

Moreover, importers would be expected to pay for all the costs associated with the quarantine and testing arrangements put in place.

For Brexit to work, food processing businesses around the UK will want to export their produce to countries in many other parts of the world.

It would be catastrophic for the economy as a whole if they could not secure this business because of an inadequate animal health status.

Recent confirmation of Bluetongue in a heifer imported from France should act as a warning for the entire livestock industry. Importing live animals from abroad is playing with fire. And, if we are not careful, some day we will get more than our fingers burnt.