Welsh farmers agonised by the prospect of another year’s poor trading in the autumn sheep sales have appealed for the whole of Wales to be made a Bluetongue Protection Zone. And Welsh Assembly Government chief vet Christianne Glossop has agreed to balance the likely financial impact on them against the risk of disease.

Dr Glossop was addressing a meeting organised by NSA Cymru at the Royal Welsh Showground on the day Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones announced that south-east Wales would become a Protection Zone from Friday, 27 June, and farmers able to vaccinate.

No firm date can be given for the roll-out of the next 6.5 million doses that would further extend the Protection Zone and the news heightened fears that buyers would be unable or unwilling to travel to sale venues still in clean areas in late summer and early autumn.

Responding to a question from Pembrokeshire farmer Dai Morris, she explained her reluctance to further extend the Protection Zone before sufficient vaccine became available.

Dr Glossop’s concern is that if she declares the whole of Wales a Protection Zone while there isn’t enough vaccine to cover the whole area, there is a risk of disease being brought in among unvaccinated livestock.

“I was trying to explain that this is a balance then between the risk of infection coming in to an area against the cost to you of not being able to move animals and the sales being affected and right now what we are trying to do is this measured delivery of vaccine as it becomes available”, she added.

“I suspect that at some point we may well just have to roll out the zone. It may be that the delivery forecast of the vaccine, the disease picture in England, and pressure from the industry is such that the best response would be to just simply roll out the Protection Zone across the whole of Wales.

“Right now I think that would be a risky thing to do but that doesn’t mean that that situation can’t change but at this stage I’m not going to promise that because I really need to think about that carefully”.

Local farmer Robert Davies who chaired the meeting said he accepted Dr Glossop’s argument and farmers had been reassured over abortion, fertility and fatality worries associated with the vaccine. The task now was to persuade buyers that they can move between zones if the rules are observed.

Farmers in Protection Zones can buy sheep from sales in the clean zones and then take them home and vaccinate them if they wish. Sheep could be sold out of a Protection Zone as long as they had been vaccinated under a vet’s supervision, subject to a 60 day standstill or 35 days if a blood test establishes immunity.