A complete ban on all movement of cattle, sheep and other ruminant animals from Britain to the island of Ireland has been imposed in an effort to prevent an outbreak of bluetongue.

The move follows the confirmation of a case of bluetongue virus serotype 3 (BTV3) in a single cow in Kent, England, over the weekend.

Both the Department of Agriculture in Republic of Ireland and Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland have confirmed a temporary suspension of all moves of ruminants and their germinal products, such as semen and embryos, between Britain and this island.

Agriculture officials north and south of the border are now working to trace all cattle and sheep movements from Britain into Ireland since 1 October.

Surveillance testing

A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture told the Irish Farmers Journal that regional veterinary offices will be in contact with livestock owners who have imported cattle or sheep from Britain since 1 October in order to arrange surveillance testing.

“It is critical that all livestock farmers maintain vigilance for any suspicions of this disease and report any such suspicions to their local regional veterinary office (RVO) without delay,” the spokesperson urged.

Belgium and Germany have also confirmed outbreaks of BTV3 in sheep in October 2023.

There is no EU-approved vaccine against BTV3 and it is not yet known if other bluetongue vaccines (BTV8, 1 or 4) can provide cross-protection.

Deputy chief veterinary officer at the Irish Department of Agriculture June Fanning recently wrote for the Irish Farmers Journal about the bluetongue situation in Europe and how we can keep the virus out of Ireland.

What is Bluetongue?

Bluetongue is a disease of certain species of animals, including cows, goats, sheep and other camelids such as llamas, caused by bluetongue virus.

The disease can cause serious illness and death in some affected animals, but does not affect human or food safety.

Ireland does not have bluetongue disease, but a potential outbreak here could have a very negative impact on animal welfare and the livestock sector.

Bluetongue is a notifiable disease, which means that any suspected cases of bluetongue must be reported to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine without delay.

The virus is transmitted by midge bites and midges are most active between April and November.

Not all susceptible animals show immediate - or any - signs of contracting the virus.

The impacts on susceptible animals can vary greatly - some show no symptoms or effects at all, for others it can cause productivity issues such as reduced milk yield, while, in the most severe cases, it can be fatal for infected animals.

Read more

Explainer: what farmers need to know about bluetongue

Britain on high alert as bluetongue case confirmed