Russia halts live animal imports from UK over virus

Russia has imposed a temporary ban on cattle and small livestock imports from the UK following the spread of the Schmallenberg virus (SBV).

The ban, imposed by the Russian government’s food safety and sanitary watchdog, includes live animals from other European countries where the virus is prevalent. Russia had already been restricting imports from Britain.

Meanwhile, in a separate move, the European Union’s food safety watchdog said on Tuesday (31 January) that it had been asked to assess the health risks posed by the new virus.

“The European Commission has requested urgent scientific and technical assistance for possible risks resulting from the Schmallenberg virus,” the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in a statement.

EFSA will provide the commission and EU governments with likely scenarios on how the insect-borne virus could affect livestock in the coming months, and will also assess possible risks to human health, the statement said.

SBV, named after the German town where it was first discovered in November, has infected cattle, sheep and goats, causing birth defects in offspring, including deformation of the head, neck and limbs.

So far, there have been 11 confirmed cases across five counties in the UK affecting only lambs, according to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA).

However, farm vets believe that figures could rise significantly once the lambing season gets under way in earnest and calving begins in about a month.

Although the disease is not notifiable, the NFU has urged farmers to remain highly vigilant and report any suspected cases to the AHVLA or the SAC for testing.

The source of SBV is uncertain, but scientists believe the virus is likely to have been transmitted to the UK from infected midges blown across the Channel.

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