The NATIONAL Farmers Association is calling for farmers to think hard and consider the risks to the UK's disease status if they are thinking about importing sheep from any countries that carry a risk of disease.

The call follows the discovery of bluetongue in a consignment of four sheep imported from France, with NSA chief executive Phil Stocker carrying that warning to his members.

He believes that import and export of quality breeding animals is an important part of advancing sheep genetics and a valuable trade.

But he added: "However, farmers and traders involved should be aware of the risks, and also aware that they may not only be putting individual farms at risk but could also threaten our entire livestock industry.

"Livestock being imported from affected areas of Europe, as these four sheep were, must be effectively vaccinated against bluetongue before they’re sent off farm. In this situation something has gone wrong, which means potentially infective sheep were brought into the UK.

"Fortunately, Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) controls identified this and the animals having been destroyed. With no compensation this will have cost the importer in question serious money let alone the costs incurred by APHA”

The NSA is strongly advising farmers, and anyone involved in this type of trade to research the high-risk diseases associated with different countries before choosing to import and if it is felt necessary to bring animals in, consider taking steps beyond statutory controls to give real assurance.

Mr Stocker said: “While in this case it is a legal requirement for stock to have been vaccinated for bluetongue prior to export this case shows the system cannot be fully relied upon.

"The NSA would like to see farmers and traders apply the ‘buyer beware’ principle and to have the animals tested to make sure they have developed immunity prior to leaving the farm of origin.”

“We know farmers in several European countries are suffering from ongoing problems with several different strains of BTV, mainly being picked up in routine surveillance, and our sympathy is very much with them.

"While we recognise there are valuable bloodlines available in some of these areas, there is no benefit to anyone in spreading this disease. We would expect anyone looking to bring animals into the UK to take every precaution."