‘Use it or lose it’ warning over bluetongue vaccine

Farming leaders have urged farmers to make use of the bluetongue vaccine after the Welsh Assembly Government threatened to sell off some of its 5.5m unused doses.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales made the plea after Elin Jones, rural affairs minister, said she was bitterly disappointed with the uptake of the vaccination programme so far.

Speaking at the opening of the Welsh Dairy Show in Carmarthen on Tuesday (21 October), Ms Jones said only 2m vaccine doses, out of 7.5m ordered by the assembly, had been used. And she said that she was ultimately responsible for any unused vaccine.

“I am not worried about the cost coming off my budget next year because I will sell any not taken up to Scottish and French farmers,” she said.

“The industry urged me to order supplies and at one time criticised me for not ordering enough but, for whatever reasons, too many farmers seem to be prepared to take a terrible risk.

“If bluetongue reaches Wales it will be farmers who carry the cost, not me, as there is no compensation.”

Gareth Vaughan, FUW President, said he shared the minister’s frustration about the poor uptake of vaccine.

He warned his members Ms Jones was serious about selling unused vaccine.

“It is completely understandable that the WAG is looking to protect taxpayers’ money by selling unwanted vaccine to other EU Member States,” he said.

“We urge farmers to vaccinate as soon as possible as the risk of BTV8 arriving and being transmitted is expected to continue until late December.

“With Scotland planning a compulsory vaccination scheme from November and areas of southern and eastern England having vaccinated around 80% of their livestock, I am concerned that Wales could be left behind and suffer an outbreak.”

Dylan Morgan, deputy director NFU Cymru, said farmers risked a heavy financial penalty if they did not use the vaccine.

In particular, he urged dairy farmers to vaccinate before cattle were housed for the winter and conditions became ideal for midges carrying the bluetongue infection.