Schmallenberg tops agenda at health conference
The event, organised by the NFU, gathered science experts from across the animal health and welfare industry together to discuss the impending issue after results were released by the Royal Veterinary College and the Institute for Animal Health which said farms were at risk.
Schmallenberg causes deformities in lambs and calves. It was found on the RVC's farm in Hertfordshire in June and has confirmed cases in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
January brought the first detection of the disease in the UK and so far 276 farms have been affected.
"This latest news is concerning for our members who will now be planning autumn breeding - a critical time. Animals infected with the virus during these early months of pregnancy are most at risk of producing deformed offspring and of having abortions" said Ed Bailey, NFU Cymru President.
Bailey also said livestock may well have developed immunity and a natural resistance, something the early reports have not shown.
“What we need is more efficient and effective diagnostics on the ground identifying where the Schmallenberg virus is and therefore likely to cause potential problems" he said.
"This will be the best tool to help farmers in the fight against this disease this year. We also need to have the vaccine, which we understand has been developed to be licensed and approved as soon as possible. While this won’t help those farmers with infected animals, it will start to protect areas like Wales that have not yet seen the disease."
“Our message remains the same: we would urge all farmers to remain vigilant for signs of the disease and to report any unusual symptoms to the local vet or animal health office.
Animal health adviser Catherine McLaughlin said more needed to be done to identify where the disease is circulating to help farmers plan and avoid livestock contact with midges that bite and infect the animal with the virus.
Humans are not at threat from the virus which has managed to survive during winter, when the midge population was low.
“Scientists from the Royal Veterinary College and the Institute of Animal Health have confirmed that the Schmallenberg virus has over-wintered," she said.
“This is concerning for our members who will be planning autumn breeding, a critical time. Animals infected with the virus during these early months of pregnancy are most at risk of producing deformed offspring and of having abortions. This is obviously a great worry for our members.
“However, early reports do show us that livestock that had the disease this year and last year will have developed immunity and this will help build a natural resistance here in the UK.
“What we need is more efficient and effective diagnostics on the ground identifying where the Schmallenberg virus is, and therefore likely to cause potential problems. This will be the best tool to help farmers in the fight against this disease this year. We also need to have the vaccine, which we understand has been developed to be licensed and approved as soon as possible. While this won’t help those farmers with infected animals, it will start to protect those in areas that have not yet seen the disease.
“We would ask members to be vigilant and report any symptoms to the local vet or animal health office.”
NFU Vice President Adam Quinney, who chaired the animal health conference said: “The report from the IAH and the Royal Veterinary college on Schmallenberg has confirmed what we always suspected. The midge has over-wintered and will cause problems for livestock farmers next spring."
"However, from the advice we have received today, we are hoping there will be a low incidence rate on farm. That said there will be some tough decisions that need to be made, not least about tupping and managing the all-important breeding season for autumn.”
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