Livestock farmers warn of bluetongue disaster with no vaccine

Livestock farmers are warning of an impending bluetongue disaster in GB cattle and sheep, with no sign of a vaccine becoming available any time soon.

Speaking at the livestock breakout session at the NFU Conference on Tuesday 20 February, one Norfolk farmer said: “It’s warm, it’s wet, midges are breeding. We are facing a real disaster. What are we going to do about it?”

NFU and NFU Cymru regional livestock board chairmen saw first-hand the devastating effect bluetongue is having on sheep and cattle farms in the Netherlands, when an NFU delegation of farmers and advisers visited the country last month.

See also: Bluetongue control zone restrictions due to be lifted

Hugh Broom, NFU East livestock board chairman, said: “The reality is, there is nothing we can do unless we get a vaccine. All we can do is pray that the wind blows in the right direction, because as soon as it turns and comes from the Continent, we risk an incursion.

“We just need to get a vaccine out as quickly as possible.”

In the absence of any vaccine and no sign of one being commercially available any time soon, Mr Broom said farm business managers can plan ahead for the possibility of a bluetongue temporary control zone (TCZ) being imposed around their farms.

“If a 150km TCZ suddenly springs up on my farm in Dorking, how does that restrict what I do? We need processors to be licensed to handle as many animals as possible from the TCZ, so that it doesn’t shut down routes to market for people that may find themselves in the control zone.”

David Barton, NFU South livestock board chairman, said the effects of bluetongue virus (serotype 3) on animals are “really horrid”.

“The only way we can stop it is with a vaccine. And with sheep, there is not even any pain relief. It’s pretty horrific.”

Mr Barton, who also runs a beef farm based in the Cotswolds, urged the UK government to “get behind” getting a vaccine into the UK.

“We don’t want to be at the back of the queue, we want to be at the front of the queue for that vaccine,” he said. “I think that’s really key.”

David Barton makes his point at the NFU livestock breakout session

David Barton makes his point at the NFU livestock breakout session © MAG/Philip Case

Oli Lee, NFU Midlands livestock board chairman, said the NFU must keep pushing Defra and the Animal and Plant Health Agency for their support “not only to develop a vaccine and justify that a vaccine will be needed”, adding “we need a lot of doses in this country compared with Europe”.

Control zones lifted

Defra lifted TCZs in Norfolk and Kent last week due to lower midge activity, which is heightened between April and November when it is warmer and they are actively feeding.

As of Tuesday 21 February, there had been 86 bluetongue cases in England across almost 50 different holdings since the autumn outbreak began.

  • BTV is a notifiable disease. Suspicion of BTV in animals in England must be reported to the Animal and Plant Health Agency on 03000 200 301.