Bluetongue continues to spread in England, with 85 reported cases on 47 farms as of 6 February, up from 66 positive confirmations in cattle and sheep at the start of the month.
The virus has now been detected in three counties located in the southeast region of England, with the main concentration of outbreaks in Kent and Norfolk. In all cases, temporary control zones have been put in place around farms where the virus has been identified.
Animals within these areas are prohibited from moving off-farm without a special veterinary licence and pre-movement testing.
To prevent bluetongue entering NI, all imports of live ruminants, semen and embryos from Britain were suspended with immediate effect, following the initial outbreak back in mid-November. That import ban remains in place, with little prospect of it being lifted in the short to medium term.
A number of farmers in NI have been caught in these restrictions, having purchased livestock in the interim period, which are now stranded in Britain.
With various pedigree cattle breed societies holding premier sales in Britain over the coming days, there is nothing to stop NI farmers bringing across bulls, but any purchases will have to remain in Britain until the import ban is lifted.
Other barriers remain
There also remain other barriers to trade, despite the claims made in the UK government’s command paper on ‘Safeguarding the Union’, which has facilitated a return of the Executive at Stormont.
That document states that “livestock can now move from NI to GB for shows and sales with the freedom to return within 15 days – abolishing previous requirements that made moving livestock temporarily more difficult”.
However, the text does not provide the full picture and for local pedigree breeders attending sales in Britain, existing issues remain firmly in place.
NI cattle and sheep cannot attend sales in Britain and return home to the country of origin within 15 days, unless they are sold through an approved export sale.
However, for a sale to be deemed export eligible, NI livestock must be segregated from other animals and are effectively required to be sold through a separate sale ring.
Breeders in Britain are also required to TB test animals prior to sale, and that has been met with strong resistance by pedigree societies. To date, no export approved sales have been held in Britain.
As a result, where NI cattle and sheep attend sales in Britain, but go unsold or are purchased by another NI farmer, they automatically default to completing a six-month residency before returning home. In the meantime, the current restrictions on live imports due to bluetongue ultimately supersede the rules on residency periods for pedigree livestock.