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UK Sheep Association Calls for Disease Strategy Amid Mounting Bluetongue Risk

01 April 2016

UK - With a recent APHA report suggesting an 80 per cent chance of the bluetongue virus serotype 8 (BTV8) hitting UK shores later this year, the National Sheep Association (NSA) is working hard to keep the need for an agreed disease control strategy at the top of the agenda.

NSA understands the French Government currently owns all existing vaccine for BTV8 and has made it compulsory for any stock exiting the restriction zone in France to comply with pre-movement vaccination stipulations.

Although the UK currently has its hands tied by there being no vaccine available, NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker is clear that livestock keepers and UK governments need to have an open dialogue on the choices being faced.

Mr Stocker says: “The NSA position, which is shared by the Sheep Veterinary Society, is that we must do all we can to keep the UK clear of the virus and not allow it to become endemic if it does arrive.

"We should treat any opinion that this is a ‘low impact’ disease with extreme caution, as while there may be some residual immunity in France, we do not believe that is the case here. The UK remains highly vulnerable, with a potential BTV8 outbreak posing real welfare and production problems.

“Many NSA members tell me that, if a vaccine was available at a reasonable cost, they would choose to use it. Whether that would get usage to a level that would protect the national flock is questionable, but that is where we are at the moment and the most important challenge is to get adequate approved and inactive vaccine stocks available at a price that encourages uptake.”

Having spoken to vets in France, NSA understands the majority of confirmed cases so far have been picked up through surveillance rather than clinical signs.

Rather than this pointing to a less virulent strain of the virus, experts suggest circulation is presently limited due to unsuitable weather conditions and/or a degree of residual immunity being present. NSA feels strongly that the UK’s health and welfare reputation must be protected at all costs.

Mr Stocker continues: “Given that the UK is an island nation and we have the potential to protect ourselves through vaccination in advance of any spread to our shores, planning for adequate vaccine production and uptake is now essential.

"I urge producers in potentially vulnerable areas to seriously think about how an outbreak of bluetongue could impact on their own stock and their ability to move stock, and to consider committing to a vaccination programme. I also urge vaccine manufacturers to step up their communication with the UK livestock industry and to start preparing the way for manufacture.

“Additionally, we all have to consider the UK’s reputation in terms of health status, particularly in light of the hangover remaining from BSE and foot-and-mouth, and that takes us into the difficult topic of how fair it is to expect those in geographically vulnerable areas to cover the costs of acting as guardian for the wider industry.

"The industry and Government need to pick this topic up again urgently – it may not be in time for this potential BTV8 risk, but the issue of cost and responsibility sharing is far from being resolved.”

TheSheepSite News Desk



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