The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has welcomed news the Northern Ireland Assembly is to apply to the European Union for the province’s cattle to be declared free of the disease brucellosis.

Officially brucellosis free (OBF) status would mean control measures can be reduced, which means reduced costs for farmers in Northern Ireland.

It is three years since the last confirmed case of the disease, which is highly contagious and spread by infected material at time of calving or abortion. It can also result in infertility, morbidity and reduced milk yield.

There are also human health risks because the disease can be transmitted by drinking unpasteurised milk from infected cows, by inhalation, cuts and abrasions, or by droplet infection.

BVA president John Blackwell, a cattle vet, said the new was very welcome.

“It clearly demonstrates what can be achieved by vets, farmers and the government working in partnership to tackle what is a serious disease, which can, of course, be transmitted to humans,” he said.

“While we congratulate our colleagues in Northern Ireland, they would also be the first to recognise this is not a time to be complacent and there is a need to continue surveillance to maintain disease freedom.”

Simon Doherty, president of BVA’s Northern Ireland branch, said it was a significant milestone for veterinary surgeons and the farming community in Northern Ireland.

“We are cautiously optimistic Northern Ireland will be declared OBF and this will be a testament to how vets, farmers and the government in Northern Ireland determinedly set out to eradicate this disease,” he said.

“It will significantly reduce costs for cattle farmers. However, while we are right to be pleased about this recent news, we also know there is still some way to go before we achieve OBF status and we need to continue to ensure compliance with current testing requirements.

“Looking positively to the future, BVA and the Northern Ireland branch will contribute to the proposed department consultation on reducing brucellosis control measures in Northern Ireland.”

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