Livestock farmers warned of potential Bluetongue threat

The NFU has joined with organisations from across the livestock sector to urge farmers to think carefully about importing animals from areas that are known to be infected with Bluetongue virus.

The call comes after the virus was found, following post-import testing, in imported animals for the third time in less than 12 months. The infected animals have been slaughtered and no compensation was paid.

The midge-borne disease has been circulating around Europe with cases being reported in France, Switzerland, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy.

A cross-industry statement said: “Bringing in diseases into the UK such as bluetongue would have severe consequences on the health and welfare of our livestock, which can result in widespread movement restrictions and costly surveillance testing.

“In addition to these costs, if there is spread into the national herd or flock, the country loses disease-free status, which can have a significant impact on trade.

“In order to continue to protect our herds and flocks, both locally, regionally and nationally, we must be vigilant when importing livestock from high risk areas, and perhaps even reconsider importing animals from areas where BTV is present.

“Importers need to be aware of the risks to the national herd and at the very least must consider pre-export testing consignments of animals imported from BTV affected areas. Such tests should provide confirmation of the BTV and vaccination status of the animals. The movement of herds or flocks should then be restricted until the required post-import testing is carried out. If imported animals are found to be infected with bluetongue, they will be culled, with no compensation.

“Any premises found to have bluetongue infected animals will then be placed under strict animal movement restrictions for a number of weeks, while extensive surveillance is carried out.

“Our message to all livestock keepers is to discuss any imports with their vets and consider choosing non-BTV restricted areas for the supply of stock.”

The three chief veterinary officers of Great Britain said: “Bluetongue does not pose a threat to human health or food safety, but the disease can have a serious impact on farming productivity by causing infertility in sheep (which is particularly important at this time of year), and reduced milk yields in dairy cattle.

“The recent detection of bluetongue in imported sheep and cattle is another example of our robust disease surveillance procedures in action, and highlights to farmers the risks that come with bringing animals from disease-affected areas into their flocks and herds. It is also a clear reminder for farmers that the disease remains a threat, despite coming towards the end of the season when midges are less active.

“Farmers must remain vigilant and report any suspicions to APHA. They should also work with importers to make sure effective vaccination needs are complied with and that all animals are sourced responsibly.”

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.