Bovine testing made compulsory in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle O’Neill, has announced that testing for Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) virus in new-born calves, including stillbirths and abortions, will be made compulsory. 

“My officials will bring forward draft legislation for consideration by the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development on 8 December 2015 with a view to it coming into operation on 1 March 2016,” said O’Neill.

“The interval between announcing my decision now and the commencement date of the legislation will not only allow industry body Animal Health and Welfare NI (AHWNI) time to make any necessary operational arrangements, but will also provide herd keepers some time to use up any stock of any standard cattle identification tags they have acquired, prior to purchasing the new BVD tissue sample enabled tags.”

The news was welcomed by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the British Veterinary Association Northern Ireland.

“With about half of Northern Ireland farmers involved, the uptake under the voluntary BVD testing scheme has been really promising,” announced Simon Doherty, president of BVA Northern Ireland branch.

“So it’s most welcome that Minister O’Neill has committed to the necessary introduction of compulsory testing, as part of the joined-up government, profession and industry approach that is crucial for the delivery of a successful BVD eradication programme in Northern Ireland.”

O’Neill added that the legislation’s aims were consistent with the commitments provided in Going for Growth – a strategic action plan to support Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector and that there would be noticeable disease control benefits.

“As part of the Going for Growth strategy, we are committed to working with stakeholders to develop industry-led initiatives to tackle production diseases which have a significant economic impact at farm level such a BVD, as part of an overall herd health programme,” said the Minister. She added that this legislation was taking a positive step forward in the eradication of BVD from the herd in the north.

“I view this as the beginning of a new era in partnership-working between my department and industry,” she concluded. “For the first time AHWNI will lead in the implementation of the legislation relating to a production disease. While production diseases are the responsibility of the herd-keeper and industry to resolve, appropriate support can be provided by government when it makes economic sense to do so.”

It was recognised by O’Neill that the additional costs to each herd-keeper would remain relatively low, with the overall industry contribution over a three-year period being over £5 million. It was reported that the estimated financial gains made by herd-keepers in getting rid of BVD would outweigh such costs by a ration of 10 to one.

Meanwhile, Sean Wensley, president of the BVA also praised the progression. “Vets and farmers have been well engaged with the process so far and keen to see it progress. The announcement for a compulsory BVD testing scheme was made more than two years ago, so we are very pleased to hear this next step in its continued progress towards legislation, with a deadline rollout set for March 2016.”

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