Fears of bluetongue outbreak grow

Fears that East Anglia will face a full-blown outbreak of the bluetongue virus were growing last night as tests confirmed the livestock disease had spread to a second Suffolk farm.

Fears that East Anglia will face a full-blown outbreak of the bluetongue virus were growing last night as tests confirmed the livestock disease had spread to a second Suffolk farm.

Chief vet Debby Reynolds confirmed that the midge-borne disease had been found in a Holstein cow at a farm at Lound, near Lowestoft, and that tests were being carried out on the rest of the herd.

Livestock movements between farms in Norfolk and Suffolk have been banned.

But farmers are baffled about how a virus carried by midges can be stopped from spreading - unless the forecast cold snap in the weather succeeds in killing the insects.

Yesterday the two farmers whose cows have tested positive for the disease both spoke of their concerns for the future.

Ron Hill, the farmer at the centre of the latest case at Beehive Farm at Lound, near Lowestoft, said: “You can't control the flight of a midge or the wind - there is nothing you can do.

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“Agriculture always comes up with a reason for concern but this is new and we don't know too much about it. I am trying to be optimistic.”

Meanwhile Richard Storer, whose rare breed farm at Baylham, near Ipswich, saw the UK's first two cases of bluetongue confirmed, said he feared the disease was more widespread than farmers realised.

“Worryingly, this means that there may well be animals elsewhere in East Anglia that have been bitten by midges, are now infected but are not showing any symptoms to alert their owners to the presence of the virus,” Mr Storer added.

East Anglian farmers, already struggling in the wake of outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in Surrey in recent months, had hoped to see restrictions on the movements of livestock lifted in the days before the bluetongue virus reached British shores.

Last night the chief vet, Ms Reynolds, said: “While Foot and Mouth Disease and Bluetongue are present in the country, all animal keepers should proceed with caution.”

The disease, spread by infected midges, is common in southern Europe and has emerged across northern European countries during the past year.

Two farmers who have animals a “stone's throw” from Mr Hill's farm stressed the importance of getting stock moving again as quickly as possible.

Tom Crawford, who lives near Bungay, farms blocks of land from close to the latest outbreak down to Attleborough.

He said: “We have had a form of restriction in place since August but at 3.30pm yesterday we would have finally been allowed some movement but then the new case of bluetongue was confirmed.”

He said he was very concerned about his animals being infected but felt there was even greater pressure when it came to animal welfare.

“I struggle to see how we are going to stop it and I can see us spending a lot of money trying without success,” said Mr Crawford.

“Calves are being born all the time and we usually sell the bulls straight away but we haven't been able to move anything for weeks. This creates a real problem for us because if we keep stock in cramped conditions there is a welfare issue and the risk of other disease.”

Suffolk chairman of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) Suffolk John Collen said containing the disease was essential but added that it was “critical” to get stock moving again.

“Individual farmers have their own frustrations whether it be feed, housing, calving and all sorts of variations. There is a great urgency to get things moving again.”

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