Compulsory testing for Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) virus in new-born calves, including stillbirths and abortions, could soon be legislated for in Northern Ireland.

The North’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle O’Neill and her Department are to bring forward draft legislation for consideration.

The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development is to consider it on December 8, 2015 with a view to it coming into operation on March 1, 2016.

According to the Minister, the interval between announcing her decision now and the commencement date of the legislation will allow industry body Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland (AWHNI) time to make any necessary operational arrangements.

“It 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,” she said.

The Minister said aims of the legislation are consistent with the commitments given in Going for Growth and that there would be considerable 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 as BVD; as part of an overall herd health programme.

We have good reason to believe that through the application of this legislation, we will be taking an important step towards eradicating BVD from the herd in the North.

“That would certainly be a considerable achievement and will bring BVD compulsory testing here in line with the rest of Ireland,” she said.

The Minister recognised that while the additional costs to each herd keeper would be relatively low, the overall industry contribution over a three-year period would be over £5m.

Putting this into context, however, DARD stated that the estimated financial gains made by herd keepers in eradicating BVD would outweigh these costs by a ratio of 10 to one.

“I view this as the beginning of a new era in partnership-working between my Department and industry.

“For the first time, AWHNI 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,” she said.