Scottish dairy farmers are being called upon to help step up Schmallenberg virus surveillance after evidence the disease is spreading northwards.

NFU Scotland is behind the move to increase Schmallenberg (SBV) disease monitoring and is calling on Scottish dairy farmers to help with the surveillance effort via regular bulk milk sampling.

There are a growing number of cattle and sheep infected with SBV in England and Wales and strong evidence the disease is progressing northwards.

Previous surveillance in Scotland identified animals carrying antibodies to SBV but these had been brought into the country from at risk areas. However, there is an expectation that the virus will spread to Scotland and start to circulate in 2013.

To track the possible spread of the virus, NFU Scotland, in partnership with SRUC and Biobest, will identify a network of dairy farms across Scotland to take part in a milk testing programme.

By taking samples from a dairy farm’s milk tank every three months, and testing for SBV antibodies, dairy farmers will provide a service to all Scottish cattle and sheep keepers by identifying any spread of the virus into Scotland this year.

This will give an early warning of virus activity and allow Scottish farmers and their vets to plan ahead.

Exposure to SBV can result in relatively mild conditions in cattle and sheep but where infection takes place during the early stages of pregnancy, it can result in congenital disorders of lambs and calves. Infection may also be linked to poor breeding performance.

Commenting on surveillance plans, NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller said: “It [Schmallenberg] is of such importance to our members that we will co-ordinate the testing effort and fund the laboratory work and will be working with SRUC and Biobest Laboratories to circulate the results.

“Evidence suggests that SBV presents a genuine risk to Scottish cattle and sheep this year. Although we have not yet found acute disease in Scotland, we need to take action to establish this surveillance so that the threat can be tracked in the coming months.”

Dairy farmers interested in being part of the surveillance group can contact NFUS Animal Health Policy Manager Penny Johnston on 0131 472 4021 or penny.johnston@nfus.org.uk

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