Bluetongue will be back - warning

Bluetongue disease is likely to return with a vengeance in East Anglia next year, two top livestock farmers have warned after a fact-finding trip to northern France.

Bluetongue disease is likely to return with a vengeance in East Anglia next year, two top livestock farmers have warned after a fact-finding trip to northern France.

“The midge-borne disease has hit farmers far worse this year when it returned in August,” said mid-Norfolk farmer Roger Long, who has just returned from a visit to the Lille area close to the Belgian border.

“We must have a vaccine available as soon as possible and certainly by late spring if a serious animal welfare problem is to be averted.”

Mr Long, who is a regional member of the National Farmers' Union's livestock board, said bluetongue has come back this year “with a bang” to cause real problems for French livestock producers.

“The ones that were infected last year are getting it far worse this year because the animals build up no immunity to it whatsoever.”

The five-strong NFU party, which included Suffolk farmers' leader John Collen, was clearly surprised that cattle and sheep would be hit so hard by the disease in the second year. “I think we all thought that animals would build up immunity once they had been bitten,” he said.

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Mr Collen, who has two confirmed cases in his 300-cow dairy herd at Gisleham, near Lowestoft, also has 24 cattle infected by the disease since it arrived in Suffolk in early August.

The group, which included East Anglian sheep producer, Andrew Foulds, of Elveden, near Thetford, toured farms in an area about half the size of Norfolk during the three-day visit.

There have been about 7,000 cases of bluetongue in France since August last year while there have been just 62 in eastern England since September 22. Mr Long, of Scarning, near Dereham, said their French hosts reported numerous cases of “abortion and premature births in cattle and sheep and also loss of fertility in bulls and rams. It was a sorry picture.”

One dairy farmer with 46 milking cows and 15 suckler cows had brought all his stock inside every night as a precaution but it had not really helped, said Mr Long. One French farmer told him: “There's no stock management that can stop a midge.”

The French government pay to collect fallen stock, which encourages farmers to report cases. Mr Collen said that e43 (£30) was paid for every dead lamb and pro-rata for ewes and cattle.

“We were also told that light-coloured cattle are more susceptible, possibly because the midges can target these animals,”said Mr Long.

“Vaccination is the only way forward and the sooner the better. It has got to happen. We must have it before the end of April or early May for cattle turnout time.”

Defra's chief vet, Debby Reynolds, 55, has taken early retirement after four years, it was announced yesterday.

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