Vaccine supply changes mean greater role for farming industry in battle against bluetongue

Adam Scott, Essex county adviser for the National Farmers' Union.

Adam Scott, Essex county adviser for the National Farmers' Union. - Credit: Su Anderson

Adam Scott, NFU county adviser for Essex and secretary to the NFU’s regional livestock board, highlights the risk of bluetonge disease returning to England this summer.

Battling livestock diseases has long been a key to successful farming, with healthy stock always forming the foundation to a healthy business.

Climate change has delivered a new threat for farmers as diseases previously confined to subtropical areas have spread northwards.

Bluetongue virus is one such disease that affects cattle and sheep and can be fatal, though it does not affect humans or have any food safety implications.

The first UK case was discovered on a farm near Ipswich in 2007. Then, a rapid response based on vaccination to protect clean animals and movement restrictions to prevent the inadvertent spread from infected livestock meant the outbreak was confined to East Anglia and the South East.


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Now the disease is spreading in northern Europe once again – and farmers are being warned there is an 80% chance it will arrive here by September.

Bluetongue is so called as the virus causes swellings that restrict the blood flow, causing the tongue to turn blue. Other symptoms include breathing difficulties, fever, a number of skin conditions and fertility problems. If it does not prove fatal it will certainly lead to a sharp fall in milk production and animal growth.

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The virus is spread by a midge that acts as the vector and, with favourable winds, bluetongue-carrying midges can travel hundreds of miles. As with malaria in humans, controlling the insect vector is notoriously difficult, thus removing one avenue of control.

In response to the threat the industry-led Joint Campaign Against Bluetongue (JAB) has launched an information campaign to help inform farmers. This includes a series of roadshow meetings to update local farmers, vets and the wider farming industry, alongside leaflets and posters describing the symptoms and the proactive steps farmers can take available.

JAB is targeting farming communities across the south of England. This is likely to be the route of transmission by infected midges being blown across from France, where the situation is being carefully monitored

The first roadshow meeting took place at Colchester Livestock Market on Thursday with another the following day at the NFU regional office in Newmarket.

Remaining dates and venues include Thursday, June 30, 10am at Abbots Ripton Village Hall, near Huntingdon, Thursday, June 30, 6.30pm at Millbrook Village Hall, Bedfordshire, and Monday, July 4, 2pm at Dereham Football Club, Norfolk.

One big change from 2007 is that the Government will not be securing supplies of vaccine to manage the disease this time. Reduced funding means the industry has to take a greater lead, with the NFU working closely with partners in the JAB initiative.

With vaccines due to be available by mid-July now is the time for farmers to speak to their vets to finalise their disease prevention plans. Farmers are also encouraged to visit the NFU website which contains all the latest information on the disease.

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