Vaccinate – because bluetongue disease could be lurking anywhere, vets and cattle industry leaders have warned.

Responding to DEFRA‘s announcement that eight cases of bluetongue had been confirmed in imported cattle in Devon, vet Andrew Praill told Farmers Weekly that the arrival of more infected animals should ring alarm bells.

“I’m concerned that the disease could be circulating in the UK. But despite that fact and the emergence of fresh cases the uptake of vaccine has begun to slow,” said Mr Praill of the British Veterinary Association.

The roll-out of the vaccination programme will continue on Monday 1 September but Mr Praill said that as the programme had extended further north there had been a noticeable slowing of vaccine purchases.

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“This is worrying. Farmers away from the south of England seem to think that bluetongue is too far away from them to be their problem.

“My advice to them is to think again. We don’t have the surveillance to tell us whether the virus is circulating,” he said.

“It could be that the virus is prevalent and we are just not picking it up because stock are protected and so not showing clinical signs of the disease. “If your stock are protected you are okay. If they are not they could become infected. That could allow the disease to gain a foothold and become endemic in the UK. We will not beat it if that is the case,” Mr Praill said.

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He also called on farmers who are importing stock to ensure that a risk assessment is carried out.

“Better information on where the animals have come from and what risk is represented is vital,” he warned.

The National Beef Association vice chairman Frank Momber added that imported stock must be backed by an official veterinary certificate confirming when vaccination took place.

“If importers must bring in stock they should not accept word of mouth affirmation from suppliers that the animals carry no bluetongue risk and protect their reputations, and their own cattle, by insisting on a vaccination certificate that has been signed by a vet.”

“France has already declared that BTV8 is endemic this summer but it is alarming that no cases from the region in Germany where these eight imported heifers originated have been picked up by the authorities or reported by farmers.”

“The first of last year’s bluetongue cases was not confirmed in Britain until late September and there is a huge danger that many livestock farmers have been lulled into complacency, and delayed vaccination, because new disease has still to be reported here in 2008.”

“This morning’s news from DEFRA is a massive wake up call. Farmers who want to protect unvaccinated animals should begin injecting at once. There should be no delay because no one has any idea yet, where the virus is and when it will emerge,” Mr Momber added.