What about making Ireland the animal breeding centre of Europe?

Copa & Cogeca has elected a new Animal Health and Welfare Working Party Chairman.

Miguel Angel Higuera says his top priority is the implementation of a new EU animal health law, which will prioritise the tackling of animal diseases.

My response to that is: why not make Ireland the animal breeding centre for Europe?

This is not a new idea. It was first mooted over 20 years ago by the poultry sector. But that was at a time when the threat of exotic diseases, such as Bluetongue, was unheard of and the European Union was made up of only 12 member states.

Since then, our ever warming climate has brought us the threat of new animal disease problems from the south and, of course, the free movement of livestock from eastern Poland to the west coast of Ireland brings with it even greater animal health challenges.

Just think of it: diseases now have access to a super highway-based distribution network, courtesy of the EU’s ever improving rail and motorway networks.

The principle of making Ireland the animal breeding centre of Europe is a very simple one. In essence, we are an island located at the EU’s most westerly edge – one that is predisposed, for the most part, to Atlantic winds and breezes.

As a result, we are in an excellent position to keep out the many animal diseases which have a direct impact on European agriculture.

In addition, we have a selection of Europe’s best farmers and land availability is not a problem. Ireland is already home to some of the world’s leading animal health research centres, operating in both the private and public sectors.

So, in my opinion, there is a watertight case that can be put forward to make Ireland the animal breeding centre of Europe.

If such a concept could be officially accepted by the EU, the advantage to be gained for the Irish economy as a whole would be enormous.

It would make the gains secured, courtesy of the efforts made to sell this country as an international IT hub, seem like a drop in the ocean.

But there is one slight problem. We need to put our own animal health house in order first. And in practical terms, this means eradicating the likes of Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) and Johne’s Disease from the island of Ireland as quickly as possible.

The experts keep saying that such an objective is achievable. All that’s required are the right government policies and the full backing of farmers. But it’s the latter point that gives me some cause for concern.

Where BVD is concerned, there is now evidence to confirm that some farmers are holding onto Persistently Infected (PI) calves. The latest figures from Animal Health Ireland confirm that 237 PI animals were still alive on Irish farms three months ago.

In truth, their existence makes a mockery of the entire eradication programme. They represent a source of BVD infection for the herds in which they reside and Ireland’s cattle population as a whole.

Johne’s Disease is the next disease challenge that must be tackled. Let’s hope that the lessons learnt from the current BVD campaign will be taken on board. And this must mean removing reactor animals as soon as they are identified on-farm.