European vets have strongly criticised the UK’s strategy for vaccinating against bluetongue, claiming it will be ineffective, random and unmonitored.

The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), which represents 43 veterinary organisations from 36 countries, says the UK plans “fail to guarantee an optimal protection of the animals against the disease”.

“In the UK, vaccination will be completely voluntary and farmers will have to bear all costs,” said a statement. “All animal owners will have to decide whether or not to vaccinate some, or all, of their animals. In the end, it will be unclear what percentage was vaccinated, when the animals were vaccinated and if this was carried out correctly.”

Problems would occur if animals that were believed to have been vaccinated became sick. This would raise doubts about the effectiveness of the vaccination programme and of the vaccine itself.

According to FVE president Walter Winding, the UK approach “was probably driven by a strong desire to cut costs, and has little to do with animal health and welfare”. “Irrespective of the disease outbreaks the UK has faced over recent years, it continues to cut budgets and to reduce its animal health services, something that goes completely against the new EU Community Animal Health Strategy.”

But the FVE’s claims have prompted a strong reaction from DEFRA. Acting chief vet Fred Landeg has written to Mr Winding describing his comments as “inaccurate, deeply offensive and unbecoming of a professional colleague” and demanding a retraction.

“Our aim has been to develop a programme which will allow vaccination to be rolled out as quickly as possible, as vaccine is delivered, and reduce the cost to a minimum by using existing delivery chains and reducing regulatory burdens,” said the letter.

“We are in a strong position to act swiftly and reduce the risk of disease spread, not least because we were the first member state to place an order for vaccine.”

Animal health company Intervet has rejected claims by the FVE that its bluetongue vaccine is, in some way, sub-standard.In its statement the FVE said the vaccine would only be “provisionally licensed”. It would “not have undergone the more rigorous evaluation procedures of regular vaccines”.But Intervet veterinary manager Alasdair King said this was entirely normal.