Schmallenberg concerns addressed

With media attention over the issue of the Schmallenberg virus increasing, meat industry leaders are taking action to pre-empt any consumer concern.

Following speculation in some papers that the disease could be transmitted to humans, the Food Standards Agency and the European Commission have put out statements saying the virus poses no risk to human health.

In a letter to the industry, Nick Allen, chief executive of Eblex, said: “It is, however, very important that consumers get the message loud and clear that Schmallenberg has no impact on human health, as it is not transmissible to humans through either meat or dairy products.

“This was confirmed in a European Commission statement ratified by member states last month, and reiterated this week by the Food Standards Agency. Unfortunately, this aspect is something which many news sources have failed to highlight.”

Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association, said: “We have produced a briefing for members that they can use with their customers in case customers do raise any concerns. A key message is that there is no evidence of any risk to humans, and this should be stressed in any communications by government and industry organisations.”

Meanwhile, the longer-term impacts of the virus remain unclear. Rossides said: “It’s too early to tell whether the virus will have an impact on the supply balance in the marketplace, but clearly we would have very serious concerns if the already tight supply situation was to be exacerbated.”

Allen added: “It will take some time to see the true impact of the spread of this disease, but it is having an effect on livestock production business and profitability in the regions where it has been identified.

“To date, the number of confirmed cases remains relatively small. Ninety-two farms have been affected, with 85 positive cases diagnosed in sheep and seven in cattle. In the UK there are 73,400 sheep and lamb holdings and 87,500 cattle and calf holdings.

“It is too early to determine whether the virus will have a significant impact on supply, but, as an emerging issue, everyone is monitoring it with concern. All that can be done is being done and the industry is better prepared than ever to cope with the impact of a disease outbreak.”