'Another nail in farming coffin'

LORNA MARSH Farmers' worst fears were confirmed after government vets declared the bluetongue virus a full-blown outbreak and subjected Norfolk and Suffolk to a control zone.


Farmers' worst fears were confirmed after government vets declared the bluetongue virus a full-blown outbreak and subjected Norfolk and Suffolk to a control zone.

The bad news was compounded by the announcement that there would be no compensation for farmers blighted by the outbreak.

It was described as “another nail in the coffin” for the industry by farming leaders who warned it would put many out of business.

And deputy chief vet Fred Landeg said he thought the country would see “significant numbers” of new cases in October and November.

But despite Dr Landeg admitting that the deaths of some infected animals as well as the movement controls could cost the farming industry tens of millions of pounds, he said there would be no compensation because animals were not culled.

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The jump from isolated cases to an outbreak came as it was announced that a number of animals had been found to have been carrying bluetongue for longer than 30 days.

While in the rest of the country movement restrictions were being relaxed, a control zone was immediately put in place at all locations within 150km of the confirmed cases in Suffolk.

The zone takes in all of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex and means that while animals can be moved within it, they cannot go outside the area.

The news means bluetongue is now not only being carried by midges that have blown across the English Channel from northern Europe, where thousands of animals have been culled, but by native insects too.

National Farmers' Union Norfolk chairman Bob Young said: “It is yet another blow to the industry. I think we were hoping it was just midges that had come in but this means an end to normal trading in East Anglia. It is the worst possible news.

“It is another nail in the coffin for British agriculture and puts more economic pressure on farmers already under pressure. It will encourage a number of farmers to go out of business, I am sure of that but the exact number depends how widespread the disease gets.”

Dr Landeg said the disease was now circulating in the UK, with tests indicating the virus was present in animal and midge populations.

“I can now confirm that we do have bluetongue virus circulating in this country. We are early on in the outbreak and our objective is to try and contain the disease to that part of the country where we have these confirmed cases.”

A fifth case of the disease was confirmed in a cow near Burstall in Suffolk yesterday, close to the rare breeds farm in Baylham, near Ipswich, where the disease was first confirmed on September 21.

A 20km control zone and a 150km protection zone have been set up around the confirmed bluetongue cases.

Affected animals cannot be moved out of the control zone except for slaughter, and cannot be moved out of the protection zone. But livestock can be moved within each of the zones.

Dr Landeg said it was too early to say if the disease, which has killed thousands of animals in Northern Europe, was now endemic in the UK.

He said there was a chance that a long, cold winter could stamp out the disease but it was likely the UK would see a significant number of new cases this autumn.

The virus, first identified last summer in northern Europe had re-emerged “with a vengeance”' this year after a mild winter, he said.

There is currently no vaccination for this strain of the virus, although one is being developed, and culling of animals is not an effective way of controlling the disease because it is transmitted by biting insects.

Only animals which are suffering because of the symptoms of the illness will be slaughtered.

Dr Landeg stressed: “There are no human health implications from this disease - this disease does not pose any risk to any human health from meat or milk products.”

He said they were working on the basis that the disease came to the UK in early August in infected midges blown in on the wind.

“We hope that currently the spread is limited to the control zone that we've got. But it will spread further and we are currently investigating any spread by possible movement of infected animals.”

He said that the virus circulates in the blood for up to 60 days.

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