The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers has renewed its appeal for an official import ban on all bluetongue susceptible species from countries infected with the disease.

The call was made in response to data released by DEFRA which confirmed that hundreds of cattle were continuing to be imported from restricted countries where the bluetongue virus remained a threat.

A ban is essential to help keep the UK free of this costly disease, said Lyndon Edwards, RABDF chairman.

“During May alone, DEFRA recorded over 847 cattle imported from bluetongue infected countries. This is 50% higher than March and 20 times greater than January, not even taking into account thousands of stock imported from Ireland,” said  Mr Edwards.

“The figures suggest farmers may be starting to believe the risk of bluetongue has reduced in some way. In reality the warm weather we have seen in the past few weeks may amplify the potential threat,” he said.

“It takes only one infected animal to go undetected and pass on the disease to who knows how many cattle.We must take action now or face a major epidemic,” he added.

Previous calls for a statutory ban on imports received a response from the government stating to impose such a ban would be illegal.

Since then the RABDF has encouraged farmers to impose their own voluntary ban.

But the trend in imports had prompted Mr Edwards to renew the call for DEFRA to take action.

“It is time the UK followed other member states and put the disease status of the national herd before the rules of free trade,” he said.