The move will be a welcome boost for the industry as it is expected to deliver significant financial benefits to farmers by cutting down on the amount of administration, sampling and testing costs they have faced in the past.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union has welcomed the news as a “momentous achievement” but is urging farmers to remain vigilant for signs of an outbreak to help protect the Province’s disease-free status.
It marks a further relaxation of the testing rules since the Province obtained Officially Brucellosis Free (OBF) status more than two years ago.
The Department of Agriculture’s chief veterinary officer, Robert Huey, confirmed this further step forward in an announcement made on Tuesday.
He said: “Following the attainment of Officially Brucellosis Free (OBF) status by Northern Ireland in October 2015, farmers here were able to benefit from a more relaxed testing programme whereby only 50 per cent of beef herds were required to be tested for the previous two years.
“I am delighted that we have now reached the point where the testing programme can be further relaxed and as such, from 15 January 2018, for each of the next three years, the requirement for testing of beef herds will be reduced to one third.
“This good news will be welcomed by industry and by all who have worked assiduously on the eradication of brucellosis, and the attainment of OBF status.”
“This further change to the testing regime represents a new, more positive, landscape for brucellosis controls. This will bring further savings for industry, taxpayers and DAERA through the further gradual relaxation of the brucellosis scheme as we continue to move forward,” he added.
Brucellosis testing will continue for another three years, although at a further reduced rate, as a condition of OBF status being granted to ensure continuing disease freedom.
Mr Huey went on to emphasise that farmers’ continued compliance with the testing measures and biosecurity advice is vital.
He said: “This further change will mean that beef herds will only be routinely tested once over the next three years. However, while we can reduce the levels of routine testing, we must not relax our attitude to the reporting of abortions or any suspicion of brucellosis.
“It is very important that we continue to stay free of this highly infectious disease. Stakeholder cooperation has been instrumental in getting the programme to this stage, and farmers must keep up their efforts to achieve excellent biosecurity standards and adopt appropriate stock replacement policies.”
Commenting on the announcement, UFU Deputy President Victor Chestnutt said it was good news for farmers.
“Obtaining Officially Brucellosis Free (OBF) status was a momentous achievement for both farmers and DAERA. There have been no confirmed cases of Brucellosis in Northern Ireland since February 2012 and the further relaxation of brucellosis control measures signifies that the positive work carried out by farmers to date has been worthwhile,” he said.
However, Mr Chestnutt added that while the testing programme has been relaxed, farmers must not become relaxed in their attitude towards the disease.
“If we want to stay free of this disease, we must continue to report abortions or any suspicion of brucellosis to DAERA and continue to apply a good level of bio-security on farms at all times,” the Deputy President warned. An application for OBF status was approved by the European Commission in October 2015, however, DAERA is required to implement appropriate monitoring measures until at least 2020.
It is highly important that farmers report all cattle abortions, stillbirths, and calves dying within 24 hours of birth in order to protect the industry against this highly contagious disease which can be transferred to humans with serious health consequences.