Every effort must be made to ensure a vaccine is available later this year to help combat the spread of deadly Schmallenberg virus, the NFU has said.

The call from the farming union comes as many farms with early lambing flocks across England and Wales report higher than normal losses due to Schmallenberg, with stillbirths and deformities ranging from fused limbs to twisted necks.

Latest figures showed that over the past 12 months the disease has now spread to more than 1,000 UK farms, according to the Animal Health and Laboratories Agency (AHVLA).

Although it is still being recognised by DEFRA and the European Commission as “low impact” on a national scale, the cost for individual businesses can run into thousands of pounds.

Meanwhile, lamb prices have hit their lowest level for three years and livestock producers are facing rising production costs due to the extreme weather in 2012.

NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe, a sheep farmer in Leicestershire, has seen Schmallenberg in his own flock.

He said concern was growing across the industry and that a vaccine must be made available to give farmers the ability to safeguard future lambs.

“Any infection present on farm now will have taken place last year and there is nothing that can be done to alleviate issues at the moment,” he added. “But it is important that a vaccine is made available this year to give our sheep farmers the choice of whether to vaccinate their flocks against this disease.” The NFU has also raised concerns about a lack of official data to see how the disease is developing.

Therefore, the union is working closely with EBLEX, AHVLA and other industry organisations on a lambing survey, which will be released shortly. Sheep farmers have been urged to complete the survey to give a full picture of the disease.

A candidate vaccine, produced by MSD Animal Health, to protect sheep and cattle against Schmallenberg virus, was submitted in September to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) for regulatory approval and licensing for commercial use.

MSD said it was working with the VMD to ensure a product licence is granted “with minimal delay”. However, it remains uncertain when the vaccine will be ready.

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