As the number of UK farms affected by the Schmallenberg virus rises to 83, the National Farmers Union (NFU) in Scotland has put out an alert.
The Animal Health and Vetinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) confirmed that nine more farms in the south of England had shown the virus, which causes birth defects and miscarriages in livestock.
Five cases have been in cattle, 78 in sheep, and none in other animals. The Food Standards Agency said it was “unlikely” that the disease poses any risk to humans.
There have been no confirmed cases in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said it was vitally important farmers continued to report any suspicious cases as soon as possible.
NFU Scotland put out an alert to all Scottish farmers: “There are no validated antibody tests available to demonstrate exposure to the virus and no vaccine is likely to be available in the near future. The over-riding priority of all organisations is to keep Scotland’s livestock free of Schmallenberg virus.
“On that basis, the group appeals to all keepers to exercise extreme caution when considering importing animals from the risk areas. Risk areas already extend into Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and Luxembourg, and more than 1,400 cases have been identified. The situation in England is evolving rapidly and risk areas are likely to be growing all the time.
“The disease is notifiable, so the Scottish Government are not able to put in place import restrictions. It is up to industry to stand together and protect itself.”
“As Scotland is at the periphery of the virus’s apparent range, there is still the risk that fluctuating weather patterns may allow incursion,” Bob Carruth, communications director of NFU Scotland, said.
“That scenario spells danger for Scotland. However, farmers can take responsibility when it comes to exercising caution over imports. The risk associated with imports is increasing as the evidence of longer term infection within Europe builds.”
The Schmallenberg virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in adult cattle, including reduced milk yield, and stillbirths, and birth deformities in sheep, cattle and goats. Mortality rates of up to 25 per cent have been recorded in newborn lambs.
David Willison, who keeps sheep and Jersey cattle in south Cumbria, told BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme of his concerns: “The not knowing is the worst feeling of all. Because you are trying to plan the management of your stock and the sale of your stock, and you’ve got this niggle in the back of your mind that something might be coming around the corner and it might take it all away from you.”
The NFU is urging Scottish livestock farmers to:
z Avoid imports from high-risk areas, but if they are unavoidable restrict them to when midges are least active, from November 1 to April 30.
z Avoid importing pregnant animals as they may have been exposed to the virus and the foetus already affected.
The NFU also urges Scottish livestock keepers to remain vigilant and report any suspicious abortion, malformations and neurological damage in new-born beasts.