Import warning as bluetongue vaccination programme gets under way

Scotland’s compulsory bluetongue vaccination campaign has swung into force amid repeated warnings about the devastating effects of the disease and the risk of importing animals from Europe.

The campaign, launched at a Fife veterinary surgery by Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead, lasts until April 30 and involves vaccinating 7m cattle and sheep against serotype eight (BTV8) of the virus, the only strain to be found in the UK so far.

The Scottish government has invested £2.6m – about half the cost – to buy the vaccine and have it in vets’ surgeries for distribution.

Mr Lochhead said the virus posed a potentially devastating threat to the Scottish livestock sector and insisted a whole-scale compulsory vaccination programme was the only way to properly protect the industry.

He also issued a clear warning to farmers that not only was vaccination compulsory, but producers had to take responsibility for their own actions.

“For the next six months it is absolutely vital that livestock farmers do not import stock from high-risk bluetongue areas,” he stated.

Scotland is now a bluetongue protection zone (PZ) and free movement of bluetongue susceptible animals across Great Britain will be allowed.

Scottish livestock farmers have been invited to a series of meetings across the county in November and December to hear details of the vaccination programme.

While the scheme has the full backing of the industry, NFU Scotland president Jim McLaren said Europe’s failure to curb the disease had made the action necessary.

“Industry stakeholders have agreed that compulsory vaccination now presents the best option to protect our livestock,” he said.

“We have a window of opportunity between now and the end of April to put that protection in place and we would urge all producers to take the time to discuss their vaccine requirements and vaccination timing with their vet.”

Already 5.5m doses of the vaccine are in hand, with another 2.2m scheduled to be delivered by the end of November and a final batch of 3.5m doses by 15 December.

While at least one other product has been approved for use, the only vaccine supported by the Scottish government’s scheme is produced by Merial, which is expected to cost between £44 and £60 per 100ml bottle.