Deliberate attempt to infect cattle herd uncovered in Lislea

January 12, 2010

By Brónagh Murphy

A deliberate attempt to infect a herd of cattle with brucellosis has been described as ‘despicable’ by the Agriculture Minister, Michelle Gildernew.

The sabotage bid was discovered in a field in Lislea during last week in which a foetus calf, infected with the harmful disease, was dumped near livestock.

The animal was cut open and cattle feed had been scattered into the carcass in an apparent attempt to encourage the grazing herd to put their heads into it.  It was found near feeding buckets where cows, calves and a bull were grazing, but did not come from the herd.

Brucellosis is a disease that causes livestock to miscarry and in some humans it causes a mild flu-like illness, while others experience recurrent or chronic fever.

The Agriculture Minister, Michelle Gildernew, says she is appalled at the incident and vowed that DNA evidence would be used to track down those responsible.

“I am appalled to hear reports of a bovine foetus apparently being deliberately dumped on farmland at Lislea, Co Armagh,” she said.

“It was found beside where cows, calves and a bull were grazing and thus it posed a huge disease risk to those livestock as well as people who had contact with it.”

It is understood all the cows in the field had recently calved so the foetus could not have originated from any of them.

Confirming that laboratory testing for brucellosis in the foetus has given a positive result the Minister said: “DNA samples taken from the foetus and the bacterium itself will be analysed, so that future genetic identification of the source of the infected foetus and the strain of the bacteria is possible.

“My veterinary officers now have new processes that allow them to explore in detail the disease links between herds, going back over the past number of years.  This despicable act could put our Brucellosis Control Programme in jeopardy, at a stage when we are seeing very positive benefits from the actions and initiatives that we have put in place over the past few years.”

Ms Gildernew said the incident may not be an isolated one and asked all farmers to be extremely vigilant and to report all abortions to their local Divisional Veterinary Office.

SDLP MLA, Dominic Bradley, expressed his shock at the incident.

“This is a sickening incident which could endanger the  Brucellosis Control Programme.  It is difficult to understand why someone would put both animal and human health and the livelihood of famers at risk in this way,” he said.

“It is imperative that the Agriculture Department carries out a full investigation into this incident to determine the origin of this vile act and that firm action is taken against whoever is  responsible.”

Sinn Féin councillor Terry Hearty said the farming community is appalled at the incident.

Expressing his ‘absolute disgust’, Councillor Hearty said: “A lot of good work has been done to prevent the spread of brucellosis. The vast majority of farmers will be outraged by what happened in Lislea.

“The manner in which the culprits attempted to spread the disease is beyond contempt.

“I want to commend the swift actions of DARD and Minister Michelle Gildernew in responding to the incident.”