The brucellosis testing programme in Northern Ireland will be relaxed further, bringing significant benefits and savings for our farmers and taxpayers, the region’s chief vet announced today.

It’s expected that relaxing brucellosis testing will result in reduced administration, sampling and testing costs for farmers.

New regime

Chief veterinary officer Robert Huey said: “Following the attainment of Officially Brucellosis Free (OBF) status by Northern Ireland in October 2015, farmers here were able to benefit from a more relaxed testing programme – whereby only 50% of beef herds were required to be tested for the previous two years.

“I am delighted that we have now reached the point where the testing programme can be further relaxed and as such – from January 15, 2018, for each of the next three years – the requirement for testing of beef herds will be reduced to one third.

This good news will be welcomed by industry and by all who have worked assiduously on the eradication of brucellosis, and the attainment of OBF status.

“This further change to the testing regime represents a new, more positive, landscape for brucellosis controls.

“This will bring further savings for industry, taxpayers and DAERA through the further gradual relaxation of the brucellosis scheme as we continue to move forward,” he added.

Testing to continue for three years

However, brucellosis testing must continue for another three years – although at a further reduced rate – as a condition of OBF status being granted, to ensure continuing disease freedom.

Huey added that farmers’ continued compliance with the testing measures and biosecurity advice was vital.

DAERA officials have stressed to industry representative bodies the importance of farmers reporting all cattle abortions, stillbirths, and calves dying within 24 hours of birth.

Huey said: “This further change will mean that beef herds will only be routinely tested once over the next three years.

However, while we can reduce the levels of routine testing, we must not relax our attitude to the reporting of abortions or any suspicion of brucellosis. It is very important that we continue to stay free of this highly infectious disease.

“Stakeholder cooperation has been instrumental in getting the programme to this stage, and farmers must keep up their efforts to achieve excellent biosecurity standards and adopt appropriate stock replacement policies.”

Brucellosis is a highly-contagious disease of cattle that is characterised by abortions in cattle and can be transferred to humans with serious consequences for human health.

An application for OBF status was approved by the European Commission in October 2015.

Brucellosis remains a compulsorily notifiable disease. DAERA is required – under European Commission directives – to implement appropriate monitoring measures for at least five years after achieving OBF status.