The European Parliament has backed disease control proposals which could result in the UK regaining bluetongue-free status.
The parliament voted in favour of ending regulations which only permit vaccination of stock within Europe’s bluetongue restricted zones.
Instead parliament approved EU Commission proposals to allow vaccination against the disease, even where member states fall outside the zones.
The decision still has to be ratified by the EU Council in May, but it paves the way for the UK to move out of the low-risk zone category, qualifying it for disease-free status while retaining permission to vaccinate stock.
NFU livestock board chairman Alistair Mackintosh hailed the move as a “win-win” for the industry.
“If all goes to plan this will allow the UK to have the protection levels associated with being disease-free,” Mr Mackintosh said. “Imports from protection zones will have to be vaccinated or tested before they come in and we can export without having to vaccinate.
“Crucially, this decision will mean we will also retain our ability to vaccinate voluntarily, which gives our farmers the flexibility and protection they need,” Mr Mackintosh said.
“It is important to remember that while cases across the EU were limited last year, and present risk levels are low, we are seeing some member states move from compulsory to voluntary vaccination programmes.
“We know how quickly bluetongue virus can spread, so it is essential we have the ability to vaccinate and protect ourselves against any future outbreaks across Europe. The only way to protect UK cattle and sheep from this disease is through vaccination,” he said.