PEDIGREE CATTLE breeders could miss out on lucrative export markets next year if they don’t take steps to eradicate Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) from their herds.

The warning comes from Pfizer Animal Health’s technical director, Tony Simon, as DEFRA confirms it is working to reduce the UK’s status from high to moderate BSE risk and lift the EU’s ban on live exports by the end of 2005.

“Producers will be disappointed if they expect a warm welcome for their cattle,” he says. “An EU directive prevents the export of animals from herds with evidence of bovine herpes virus 1 infection, which causes IBR, to IBR-free regions.”

Austria, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and parts of Italy are among those IBR-free countries, while Germany and the Netherlands have eradication programmes in place. “Their experience suggests it takes three to seven years to produce a herd that is free of IBR.”

Marker vaccines, together with strict biosecurity, are the key to developing an IBR-free herd, he says. “Conventional vaccines prevent clinical disease, whereas marker vaccines reduce the chance of cattle becoming infected and shedding virus. “A test can distinguish between animals that have had a marker vaccine from those vaccinated with conventional vaccine or infected with the natural virus.”

MLC livestock export marketing manager Henry Lewis confirms there is demand on the Continent for breeding stock from a range of beef breeds, particularly to establish new breeding herds.

Mr Lewis says producers would do well to line up contacts now, working closely with the MLC to find out what is required.

Most dairy animals traded in Europe tend to be in-calf heifers, says Holstein UK’s marketing manager, Chris Shepherd. However, there is also a market for elite animals or show cows.

“UK genetics are now held in high regard in the rest of Europe. But it’s a niche market only top herds can tap into. But we are very much in limbo until we know what health tests our animals have to undergo for export.”