Bluetongue discovery leads to call for import ban

Farming bosses have called on a ban on imports from countries affected by bluetongue, following the discovery of the BTv1 virus in imported cattle.

Farming bosses have called on a ban on imports from countries affected by bluetongue after discovery of the BTv1 virus in imported cattle.

The National Farmers' Union has urged the government and the cattle and sheep industry in Great Britain to stand together and suspend imports of cattle and sheep from areas where bluetongue is known to be circulating in light of news that BTv1 has been detected in a batch of cattle imported from France.

Defra announced the detection of the virus in five imported cattle on a premises near Blackpool in Lancashire.

The animals originated from within the BTv1 and 8 Restricted Zone in the south west of France and were detected as a result of post-import testing carried out by Defra on all bluetongue-susceptible animals arriving from continental Europe.

This is the first case of BTV1 infection in the UK and the five animals have been culled as they may pose a disease threat to other animals. One further animal from the same consignment has also been culled. Test results for that animal were positive for bluetongue, although it was not possible to determine the serotype.

At present there is no evidence that BTv1 is circulating in the UK and no additional control zones have been declared.

Chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said: "This incident shows how important it is for farmers to consider potential disease risks when buying stock. Buyers need to consider how best to protect their own businesses and those of their neighbours and make sure they are clear about the stock they are intending to buy."

However, NFU president Peter Kendall said the government and industry needed to go further: "The health and welfare of our cattle and sheep sectors must be our paramount concern and this recent incident of a batch of imported cattle testing positive for BTv1 is a major concern for all livestock keepers.

"Our main priority must be to keep this BTv serotype out of the country. No vaccine manufacture has currently licensed a BTv1 vaccine in the UK, so we do not have vaccine to allow farmers to protect their own stock at the moment.

"As an industry we need to know more about how these animals, which we understand had been vaccinated for BTv1 in France, tested positive for the virus when they arrived in England.

"In light of the uncertainty and the enormous risk to our industry, it is only right that we do all that we can to protect our livestock sector and, at the moment, I believe that this means we should suspend imports from BTv areas.

"I am sure that no farmer wants to import BTv1 into the country and, therefore, until we are confident that the controls on moving animals from BTv areas, as set out in the EU regulations, are working effectively to protect our livestock we should suspend imports from these areas."

The NFU will be talking to Defra and other industry organisations about this very important issue in the coming days.