Nick Herbert calls for Bluetongue vaccine after local cattle are infected

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called on the Government to introduce an effective vaccination strategy for controlling the spread of Bluetongue disease.

 

The MP's call came after two cattle infected with the virus were found on a farm near Hassocks.

Several new cases of Bluetongue disease have been confirmed in the last ten days and more are expected through the pre-movement testing of animals. 

The new cases have led to an expansion of the protection and surveillance zones set up last year to control the spread of the disease.

The protection zone, which includes much of South East England, was extended further into Sussex and Dorset on 1 February following the discovery of four new cases. 

On 8 February, the protection zone was extended further into Surrey and Cambridgeshire and a separate protection zone was established for parts of North and West London, extending into Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

Boundary zones were first established after the outbreak of Bluetongue disease on a farm near Ipswich late in September. 

The most restrictive ‘protection zone', encompassing much of South-East England, includes farms in the county of East Sussex and the Mid Sussex and Horsham Districts of West Sussex.  Animals such as cattle, sheep and deer cannot be exported or moved from this zone (unless to slaughter).

In the wider ‘surveillance zone', which currently includes much of West Sussex, farmers are unable to move animals to the West Country, Wales, Scotland and EU countries (unless to licensed abattoirs).

The Bluetongue virus is spread by midges.  It cannot be spread from animal to animal.  The risk of an outbreak is thought to be low during the colder months of December, January and February, the so-called ‘vector-free period' when midges are fewer in number.

The animals recently found to have the disease are believed to have been infected before the vector-free period began in December. 

However, farmers are increasingly concerned that the delivery of 22.5 million doses of vaccine ordered by the Government may arrive too late to prevent a new outbreak of Bluetongue disease in the Spring. 

The doses are not expected to begin arriving until May - but some experts warn that a mild Spring may herald an outbreak of the disease in March or April.

There is also concern that there may not be enough of the vaccine to go around, now that the protection and surveillance zones have been enlarged.

Last month, the European Commission announced that funds will be made available to pay for the supply of vaccines in EU Member States and contribute to the cost of implementing a mass vaccination programme in 2008.

Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Jim Paice, said: "We are now well into February and farmers are starting to think about moving their stock out to grass.  The issue of vaccination is absolutely critical before mass movements begin and yet rather than take decisive action the Government is dithering.

"We have known since January 16 that the European Commission will reimburse costs associated with bluetongue vaccination but Ministers haven't even opened talks on how much might be available and on what terms.  

"As a result farmers are completely in the dark and growing increasingly anxious.  Unless the Government moves quickly to produce a vaccination strategy and clear guidance to farmers beating this disease becomes extremely difficult."

Nick Herbert commented: "The Government is not to blame for the presence of Bluetongue disease in this country.  But farmers need to be reassured that everything possible is being done to protect the industry.  Following these new local incidents of the disease we really need to know what's happening in relation to the vaccination strategy as soon as possible."

West Sussex County Chairman for the National Farmers Union, Trevor Passmore said: "Farmers are extremely concerned about the continuing threat of Bluetongue.  They are worried that if it spreads across the country there will not be enough vaccine to control it and the financial consequences of the outbreaks are crippling the livestock industry.  We must stay on top of it."

Ends

 

Notes for Editors

1. For Defra's website and details of the disease restrictions, including maps of the control zones, visit http://www.defra.gov.uk/.

Joe Coombes