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Farmers urge 'biosecurity' over fears UK livestock virus could reach Ireland

The Schmallenberg virus causing miscarriages in sheep and cattle herds has now been found on 74 English farms.

Sheep in a Derbyshire field yesterday
Sheep in a Derbyshire field yesterday
Image: Rui Vieira/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Updated, 4.45pm

THE IRISH FARMERS Association has urged the Government to impose strict “biosecurity” controls on ports and airports to guard against the spread of a livestock virus detected on dozens of British farms.

The Schmallenberg virus causes miscarriages and birth defects in sheep, and can also affect cattle. Thought to be carried by midges, it has been diagnosed on 74 farms across England, the BBC reports.

However, farmers in the UK have raised fears that the real number could be higher as many farmers may not have reported cases. The National Farmers Union called the virus a “ticking time bomb”, according to the Guardian.

No cases have been detected in Ireland as yet. However, IFA president John Bryan said there was an increased risk as the number of English cases grows, with lambing season on the way.

He called on authorities here and in the North to adopt an “all-island” strategy to protect Irish herds, including the “intensification” of biosecurity measures at ports and airports.

Bryan also urged farmers themselves to be vigilant when buying livestock and avoid the temptation of cheaper animals which may be more at risk. He said:

With a worrying lack of information available about this new virus, everybody involved in the industry has an obligation to act in a responsible manner that does not increase the risk of this virus reaching our shores.

The Department of Agriculture said it has asked vets around the country to report any signs of the virus, or the birth defects it can cause, in animals they treat. However, it said as the virus is relatively new no test has yet been developed which can be applied to large numbers of animals.

To date the Department has tested 48 samples from animals in Ireland, all of which have returned negative results.

More: Irish agriculture had 8th-highest growth rate in the EU last year>

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Michael Freeman

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