The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has urged farmers to be aware of the risks associated with importing live animals from overseas due to a rise in bluetongue cases across Europe.

The union’s advice follows calls for farmers to be vigilant for signs of bluetongue virus (BTV-3) as reports of a new strain in the Netherlands emerged.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) confirmed the presence of BT-3 at four sheep farms in the Netherlands last month – the country’s first outbreak since 2009. The route of BTV-3 incursion into the Netherlands is currently unknown.

The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has since confirmed that as of September 29, 416 outbreaks of BTV-3 have been reported by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.

Bluetongue has also been confirmed in neighbouring Belgium this month, however the strain has yet to be named. BTV-8 has also been confirmed in France.

The UFU said farmers must be aware of current risks to help safeguard Northern Ireland’s livestock industry.

UFU deputy president John McLenaghan said: “In recent weeks a number of diseases are said to be circulating across Europe.

“A new strain of bluetongue was initially detected in Holland but has now spread into Belgium, and epizootic haemorrhagic disease has been detected in Southern France, having spread from Spain and Portugal.

“Whilst imports from Holland and Belgium are no longer possible as export conditions cannot be met due to the diseases circulating, local farmers need to be aware that animals originating from neighbouring jurisdictions could carry a significant risk.”

Should farmers buy livestock in Europe, McLenaghan said they need to be “extremely cautious” and report any possible signs of disease immediately.

“Farmers must also bear in mind that should their imported animals be infected by bluetongue or epizootic haemorrhagic disease, there is no compensation for animals that must be removed from the farm,” he said.

“This stresses the importance of protecting the herd and the farm business.”

BTV-3 symptoms

Symptoms of BTV-3 can vary across ruminants, with sheep generally exhibiting more overt symptoms than cattle, but both can showcase clinical signs.

Symptoms in sheep include:

  • Drooling;
  • Mouth lesions;
  • High fever;
  • Lameness;
  • Oedema (swollen heads);
  • Sudden death.

Cattle are not usually as severely affected but may show similar clinical signs as well as teat, eye, coronary band and nose lesions.