Across the EU, the fight to stamp out BVD is already under way. Aly Balsom looks what is being done in Denmark and the Netherlands and what the UK can learn.
Knowledge transfer and making eradication compulsory appear to be the driving factors to successfully getting rid of bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD).
Having eliminated BVD from infected herds, Denmark is a shining example of how a co-ordinated and focused approach can bring big gains in a relatively short period.
Its focus on communicating to farmers and offering financial support seems to have helped Denmark wipe out BVD in infected herds where other countries, such as the Netherlands, have not been as successful.
Denmark – eradication of BVD achieved
The fight to eradicate BVD in Denmark started in 1994 with a voluntary national programme introduced by The Danish Cattle Federation – an industry-driven organisation. The programme then became compulsory in 1996, with all originally infected farms achieving BVD-free status in 2007.
What did it involve?
Dairy farmers were provided with free, quarterly bulk milk testing to establish their status. Beef farms had to pay for their own initial screening. Any farm wanting to eradicate BVD then had to pay for further testing themselves.
To help further drive uptake on to the programme, beef farmers were later told if they had a persistently infected (PI) animal on farm they could only send it direct to slaughter, explains JØrgen Katholm, senior adviser for the Danish Cattle Federation.
“In 1996 we made the programme compulsory. That meant any farms with a PI had to get rid of them by law,” he says. “At that time, 7% of dairy farms had a PI, compared with 50% at the start of the initiative. We had to make it compulsory to achieve full eradication.”
Farmers were also offered financial support to slaughter PI animals. Vaccination has never been used as part of control.
When the programme started in 1994, 80% of dairy farms were antibody positive for BVD and 50% had a PI. On beef farms, 15% were antibody positive at the start of the programme.
Currently, Denmark only has one newly infected farm with a PI and hopes to receive BVD-free status within the next six months on this premise.
Why has it been so successful?
Communicating the effects of BVD and the benefits of control were a key focus of the programme from the start. Organised by vets and farmer organisations, farmer meetings were crucial to achieving strong buy-in to the initiative.
In less than two years, 80-90% of beef and dairy farmers were involved in the initial voluntary programme. Mr Kotholm believes free bulk milk testing was also a key driver to the success of the initiative by creating greater awareness.
What happens next?
Dairy farmers still have to undertake free, compulsory quarterly bulk milk sampling for BVD. Three animals a year from a beef farm also automatically undergo free blood tests for BVD at slaughter. Any imported animals must also be certified free of BVD and quarantined.
The Netherlands – a work in progress
The Netherlands introduced a voluntary BVD control programme in 1998. At the time, national eradication was not the aim, but discussions are under way on how a national programme could work.
The initial programme was instigated by the country’s Animal Health Services, which is a privately owned organisation influenced by the farming industry.
What did it involve?
A farmer can choose to eradicate BVD on his farm by working with his vet. Tests will be carried out to establish status. If animals are shown to be exposed to the disease they will be tested and all PIs culled.
Ongoing testing is carried out to determine when a herd is free of BVD and to ensure it remains free. All bought-in animals will be tested and quarantined. Vaccination may be undertaken.
Last year, 5,000 of the 17,000 (29%) dairy farms in the Netherlands were involved in an eradication scheme and a further 2,000 dairy farms were undertaking quarterly bulk milk surveillance testing.
Between 2004 and 2008 there was no significant decline in BVD. In 2004, 26% of dairy herds were estimated to have been exposed to BVD, along with 34.3% of beef farms (including smallholdings). In 2012 this had dropped to 12.7% of dairy and 21% of beef. This may have been influenced by a greater uptake in BVD vaccination along with the voluntary programme.
Why has it not been more successful?
Vet Linda van Duijn, from The Animal Health Services, believes that if the Netherlands wants to eradicate BVD nationally, the programme has to be compulsory.
However, a re-shuffle of the Dutch agricultural boards means it is not clear who would take charge.
“I hope we will find a way with a new organisation, but it’s uncertain,” says Miss van Duijn.
“It would help if there was better knowledge transfer. BVD is not something you can easily see and many are unaware it’s on farm.”
Large numbers of imported stock also create added challenges.
What happens next?
A national eradication programme is currently being talked about by LTO – the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture.
Legislation is vital in the fight against BVD in the UK
BVD has been successfully eradicated from a number of EU countries and national control programmes are well established in various member states. Common themes of successful national programmes include:
This is typified in the contrasting fortunes between Danish and Dutch schemes. Government support, both financial and legislative, has been highly significant in the success of Scandinavian and Swiss BVD eradication schemes. However, the UK cattle industry has a different relationship with government, especially in the current economic climate as well as culturally.
A strong livestock sector plays a vital role for society – we need to feed ourselves. The government should support BVD eradication in acknowledgement of its policy obligation to fund services that are for the public good.
Safeguarding national food security is a benefit to society, as the national herd becomes more productive. Additionally the commercial/economic effect of eradicating BVD on farm is increasingly combined with removing barriers to international trade. Ireland and Scotland are already pursuing national BVD programmes in addition to bovine TB control, along with other EU partners.
The British Cattle Veterinary Association has been developing a proposal with the NFU, AHDB and Cattle Health Certification Standards for a not-for-profit industry animal health and welfare delivery body for England with a strategy for long-term improvement. This body has been proposed as Animal Health England.
The core objective would be focused on improving the health status of the national cattle herd, via this delivery body facilitating and developing collaborative partnerships between government, industry and wider stakeholders, to oversee and implement a range of projects. Reducing duplication of effort and cost to both the farmer and taxpayer is a key objective.
Although voluntary schemes are hugely valuable in leading the way, ultimately the less progressive herds will halt progress. Legislation to support regular and strategic BVD monitoring and compulsory removal of PIs is vital to sit alongside risk-based trading and genuine veterinary herd health management if we are to achieve the huge benefits promised by BVD eradication.
Jonathan Statham MRCVS
A Farmers Weekly campaign to help tackle BVD infection, in association with BVD-Free England and Beating BVD.