Ongoing efforts by DAERA staff to eradicate Maedi Visna (MV) from NI sheep flocks may not be successful, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has admitted.
The highly infectious disease was detected in NI back in January after three rams from a local flock tested positive for MV in Scotland.
The incurable viral disease has a long incubation period, so sheep do not show clinical signs until adulthood. It can cause a wide range of symptoms, including pneumonia, paralysis, wasting, arthritis, and chronic mastitis.
In response to a written question from East Derry MLA Claire Sugden, Minister Poots described DAERA’s current approach to MV eradication as “a difficult exercise and one uncertain of success”.
“Officials are implementing a rigorous approach to trace, test and removal of all of the infected animals in as timely a manner as possible,” he said.
As part of the measures, DAERA places movement restrictions on flocks that have suspected or confirmed cases of MV to prevent onward spread of the disease.
Financial compensation is available to flockowners, who are required to cull livestock due to an MV outbreak.
Sheep that test positive are paid at 50% of their market value and negative animals that have been in contact with positive cases are paid at 100% market value.
“Officials are actively working with those keepers affected by movement restrictions on their flocks to ensure that all necessary testing is done as promptly as possible, to allow the restrictions to be lifted at the earliest opportunity,” Minister Poots said.
As a backup plan, other options are being explored by DAERA officials to allow NI flockowners to continue selling breeding sheep in Britain.
This includes either an NI specific or an all-island accreditation scheme for MV.
A similar scheme already operates in Britain and requires regular blood testing on participating farms, with the cost borne by the flock owner.