When I was a small boy TB from drinking infected milk was a huge cause of death.

Our local village of Gordon had a sanatorium – so did nearby Melrose, and Galashiels. Bill McLaren, who had served in the Second World War and was playing rugby for Hawick, was struck down and spent two years in the sanatorium at East Fortune.

He survived but many did not. The British Government’s programme to eradicate the disease in our cattle was considerably compromised by cattle imported from Ireland.

Mainly sired by Angus bulls out of house cows sired by the Irish’s own breed of Shorthorn bulls, they had been gathered together by dealers from small farms throughout the country.

As calves, they were regarded as pets by the farmers’ kids and, compared with Scottish Blue Grey, were wonderfully quiet natured. They crossed the Irish Sea in their thousands. However, they had a big drawback. Many which had been tested clear of TB back home reacted over here.

Some years later, in the 1960s, just when I started working, history repeated itself. The government had instigated a programme to eradicate Brucellosis. As before, farmers who had bought Irish heifers which had tested clear had multiple reactors.

Many in the eastern Borders gave up after that and never restocked. In 1996, when BSE devastated the British beef and dairy industries, Ireland claimed to be BSE free. Those farmers who had recently bought Irish cattle had so many cases that locally it was said that Ireland didn’t have BSE, it had JCB.

Now the tables have turned and, because Bluetongue is in the south of England we can’t export our cattle anywhere. The story goes back a bit.

Before Brexit, we had a good market for pedigree Angus into Europe via Dover. After Brexit, the French required that our cattle, which up to then had comparable health status to their own, now had to be tested on entering Europe.

They didn’t set up quarantine facilities at Calais so now cattle had to travel through the Republic of Ireland which added £15,000 to the cost of a lorry load. The move was obviously protectionist and all but killed the trade. What made this particularly galling was that Defra didn’t reciprocate the trade block so cattle from the EU, under health regulations which existed pre-Brexit, continued to enter Britain in large numbers.

Of course, trade embargoes posing as health issues are hardly new. Sometimes the reasons given are so preposterous they would make Putin blush.

At the height of the BSE crisis the United States banned Canadian cattle, despite the Canadians’ assertion that the Americans already had the disease.

They pointed out that the incidence of nvCJD in humans, which was presumed to be from eating beef from cattle infected with BSE, was as high in USA as anywhere else.

The Americans declared that those suffering from nvCJD in USA got it from eating squirrels. Most countries have at some time or other defended the interests of its farmers with doubtful legality. Most except us, that is.

In recent years, we have seen bulging suitcases full of bushmeat from Africa, horsemeat posing as beef, and chicken with dangerous pathogens enter the country.

Our politicians, too, are prepared to make deals which seriously disadvantage British farmers by opening the door to large-scale imports which are produced by methods which are illegal in UK.

Prior to 1980, I had never heard of Bluetongue. All that time we tried repeatedly, without success, to bring semen from USA to Britain. The reason we couldn’t get it was Bluetongue, which we knew existed in Mexico and the southern states of USA but not within 1000 miles of farms where the bulls we wanted lived. It was a disease which affected sheep but could be carried by cattle.

For semen to cross the Atlantic, the bull, from the Northern States only, had to be confined in a pen enclosed by fine mesh screening for three months prior to collection, because Bluetongue was transmitted by biting midges.

The semen could only be collected in the ‘non-midge months’ of January and February. All the bulls we wanted were privately owned. Their owners were reluctant to commit them for a prolonged period at great expense for a relatively small order so no deals ever took place.

The last time Bluetongue came to Britain was in 2007. It went away and didn’t return until 2023. We understood that, on this side of the Atlantic, Bluetongue only existed in countries near the Equator. How it reached Germany, Holland and Belgium but seemed to miss France isn’t clear. We don’t know if it is here to stay and there is no vaccine for the present strain.

It is presumed to have been carried by affected midges blown over the North Sea on the breeze. Some think that midges have been in the many lorries carrying livestock from Europe to here. A saving grace is that midges are the only way the disease transmits. As they are inactive during the winter months, the risk of disease spreading at this time of year is negligible and transport of cattle could resume.

At the moment, livestock can’t move to Europe or to Ireland. The latter have continued to trade with us despite the de facto European trade block. We recognise that Defra have a difficult and sometimes sensitive job and that the most infectious diseases such as foot and mouth require extreme measures. Bluetongue is at present in Kent and Norfolk. Provided livestock movement is controlled locally, it won’t spread.

Defra apparently regard our international trade in pedigree livestock as insignificant, which it is, due to their abject failure to support us post-Brexit. They aren’t going to prejudice good relationships with foreign health authorities by pressing them to ease the ban through the winter period until midges reappear.

How much longer are British livestock farmers going to be the fall guys?

How much longer will it be before our government defends our interests?