The minority of farmers who retain calves, which have tested positive for BVD, pose a risk to the entire industry, according to the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

The UFU has become frustrated that a small number of farmers is risking the progress made by the industry towards BVD elimination.

It is not the role of the union to criticise farmers, Deputy President of the UFU, Victor Chestnutt, explained.

However, in this case, a small minority is "undermining the goal of the majority" to eliminate a disease that reduces industry profitability, he added.

Eliminating BVD

In order to tackle this disease, the UFU and other stakeholders claimed to have battled to secure funding. The timely removal of persistently infected (PI) calves has been highlighted as a key aspect to achieving progress.

Chestnutt added that he understood the difficulty faced by a farmer when removing a calf, which - if healthy - could be worth up to £400 (€448).

But, in reality, this is a false economy which poses a risk to other animals in the herd, he said.

While young stock may look healthy, in reality 80% of PI calves will die before they reach productive age. During this period, they are a source of infection for other animals on the farm.

"This will cost the farmer money and has a significant impact on herd profitability. Under those conditions, keeping these animals defies any economic logic,” the UFU's deputy president said.

According to the UFU, there is ample evidence that shows if a farmer chooses to retain a single PI calf, then multiple infected animals could be detected within the herd in the following year.

The union fears that up to a third of PI calves are not being eliminated from herds.

Chestnutt continued: "We are always reluctant to encourage action against farmers, but our role in the UFU is protecting the wider industry.

"For that reason, we are calling for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to use its powers under the BVD eradication legislation to enforce herd restrictions on owners that refuse to remove PI calves in a timely fashion.

"This would be on grounds that they pose a risk to the wider industry and our goal of eliminating this disease."