Importers bringing live cattle and sheep into Northern Ireland were urged today to stop after a new strain of the Bluetongue virus spread from the European mainland to England.
The Ulster Farmers' Union said the detection of the BTV1 stain of the virus in the North of England in cattle shipped from France was a significant warning to local importers not to put the industry at risk of the disease from imports.
UFU president Graham Furey said the industry in Britain had been struggling with the financial and practical impact of the ongoing BTV8 outbreak and now had a new strain through "the selfish actions of a small number of people in the industry".
Northern Ireland, he said, had managed to avoid the disease and remain a Bluetongue free zone largely because of the combined efforts of the farming industry and Department of Agriculture.
But he warned: "We are aware that a number of individuals are putting their own interests before the wellbeing of the industry and continue to import live animals to local farms."
That included, in recent weeks, a consignment of cattle from France.
Mr Furey said: "Sooner or later their luck may run out and if they bring Bluetongue into Northern Ireland, they will have brought unnecessary hardship to the livestock industry at a time when sheep, beef and dairy farmers are already going through a very difficult time."
He urged: "In the strongest possible terms, I am calling on people who are importing live animals to stop doing so.
"This is the clearly the most obvious way in which we can minimise the risk of a Bluetongue outbreak in Northern Ireland.".
Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew added her voice to the plea, urging importers to think very carefully before importing any cattle or sheep which may potentially have been exposed to the virus.
She told those involved in importation "consider the potential consequences of bringing Bluetongue here."
The minister added: "Importation is a risky option as this latest case confirms.
"Until now we have focused on BTV8 but the rapidly changing position in mainland Europe, and the spread of BTV1, BTV8 and BTV6 reinforces the message that we cannot be careful enough.".