China refuses to accept dairy heifers from now-clear bluetongue virus zone

By Country News

A refusal by China to accept dairy heifers from a now-clear bluetongue zone is continuing to cause headaches for northern Victorian producers.

A bluetongue zone was established in Bamawm in October, 2017, after bluetongue virus was detected in a number of 12-month-old heifers, but the the temporary 100km bluetongue zone was lifted on December 5, 2017.

However, 18 months later, China has not recognised the lifting of the exclusion zone and is still not accepting dairy cattle from the area.

For dairy farmers like Wyuna’s Phil Blain, it means there are even less options for people struggling in poor conditions.

‘‘It doesn’t help not being able to sell into China,’’ Mr Blain said.

‘‘It just takes the option away.’’

He said it was particularly frustrating that cows and heifers from the exclusion zone could be bought ‘‘for much cheaper’’ by those in other regions, only to be kept on properties for six months and on-sold to China for more money later on.

Dairy Livestock Services manager Scott Lord said it was an ongoing issue, with poor seasonal conditions worsening farmers’ frustrations.

‘‘It’s put a lot of financial pressure on dairy farmers,’’ Mr Lord said.

‘‘This time of the year would be the time they’d be looking to off-load suitable cattle, but a lot are carrying additional cows because of it.

‘‘We’ve continually communicated with the Department (of Agriculture) and they are aware of the financial implications.

‘‘Unfortunately it’s something that’s out of our control.’’

A department spokesperson said a number of livestock export markets had specific requirements relating to bluetongue virus, including China.

‘‘Exports of cattle to China must comply with their importing country requirements, which are outlined in China’s import conditions,’’ the spokesperson said.

‘‘We are committed to working with all trading partners to ensure importing country requirements are met in all cases including our own.’’

The department has previously held discussions with China on the issue.

The bluetongue virus was detected in three 12-month-old heifers near Echuca on October 14, 2017, during pre-export testing, before a further four heifers were found to be affected at the property.

The detection of antibodies in the heifers’ blood indicates previous exposure to BTV, with one heifer believed to have been exposed to the virus in NSW where it is more prevalent.

More than 2500 cows from 98 mobs were tested following the outbreak.