By Debbie James.

The eradication of bovine TB is quite rightly a livestock health priority in Wales but with efforts so clearly focused on this, another potentially devastating disease is in danger of being overlooked.

The Scots are prioritising bovine virus diarrhoea (BVD) eradication and Irish farmers will be signing up to a voluntary scheme next year.

We must not ignore BVD in Wales. The virus causes abortion, infertility, the birth of deformed calves and suppression of immunity. It is a problem across the globe and a large percentage of herds here in Wales are exposed to the virus.

It spreads in the womb from cow to calf and calves can become persistently infected (PI). Worryingly, PI animals are the virus factories which infect other stock.

Eradication schemes have been initiated in several European countries, including Scotland, but only limited action is being taken in Wales.

Last year around 100 farms were recruited by Wales’ red meat promotion body, Hybu Cig Cymru, to screen their cattle and work with vets at the Welsh Regional Veterinary Centre to control BVD on their farms.

Each farmer could claim £400 towards the cost of testing up to 100 cattle.

It is becoming clear that a framework is needed for BVD control beyond farm level to eradicate the disease at national level. Control of the disease is financially rewarding and needs serious consideration.

Eradicating BVD will increase efficiency at producer level because it will improve reproductive performance and the productivity of individual animals.

This will increase the output from livestock production and in turn will benefit the consumer by creating security of supply and increased competitiveness There are currently no indications that the World Organisation for Animal Health will seek to increase pressure on countries to start compulsory BVD control programmes, but countries which are free of BVD are entitled to ensure that all cattle entering into the country are free of the disease.

This means that in time, exporting countries that fail to put control programmes in place will be at a competitive disadvantage when trading with BVD free countries, when they are competing in the same market.

This could potentially have significant economic implications for Wales if countries importing live cattle from Wales achieve BVD freedom.

In Wales BVD should at a minimum be controlled and ideally eradicated from the national cattle herd.