Brussels bureaucrats have voted to rewrite bluetongue vaccination laws and stock movement rules.
A meeting of the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health voted on 3 December for changes and details are beginning to emerge.
It appears movement rules for importing livestock into the UK could be tightened up, at odds with current free trade rules.
One Brussels official explained that certain areas of the EU would eventually be able to vaccinate animals while still allowing authorities to impose extra conditions on importing from zones where the disease was known to circulate.
But the official stressed this should not be seen as a mechanism to introduce a ban on imports.
“It will mean that some areas which have begun vaccinating will no longer have to freely accept stock from infected areas, as is currently the case.
“If that vaccination area could prove the disease is not circulating it could impose extra conditions on the import of stock from infected areas once the law is changed,” he said.
How the areas are to be defined is yet to be agreed. “It may be on a county or regional basis. For example, if one area is vaccinating against BTv8 and could prove that the disease was not circulating it could impose new restrictions on imports from areas known to be infected with BTv8.
“This could mean that areas like the south east of England would find it harder to prove that the disease was not present than, say, Scotland,” he said.
“The vote will need further work to define the rules precisely and the new vaccination zones will not become law for at least one month maybe as long as two months.”
A UK farming industry official added that the proposals would take time to decipher.
“Exactly what this law could mean for trade between member states and indeed within the UK itself is still unclear,” he said.
“We don’t want more zones that make trade more complex, we have had enough of zones and people are fed up with it.”
A spokesman for the Scottish government said it had interpreted the vote as meaning that imports would be restricted to vaccinated animals or free transport during the vector-free period only.
“The development is therefore welcome and our hope is it can be applied to Scotland retrospectively,” the spokesman said.
“There remain concerns regarding the practicalities of implementing the new zones and we will be studying the detail closely to determine how this development can best be used to support Scotland’s interests.”