Bluetongue spreads further

Bluetongue continues to spread as farming leaders and government agencies struggle to ascertain the best control strategies.

New cases were confirmed yesterday (24 October) in Kent, East Sussex and Essex. As a result, Defra has announced that the control zone covering parts of Essex and East Anglia will now merge with the control zone in Kent and East Sussex to become a single control zone.

The protection zone has also been extended slightly in the South West of England. The control zone in the Peterborough area remains unchanged.

Ruminants are allowed to move within the control zone but are not allowed out of it except to go to slaughter in the protection zone or to approved abattoirs outside the protection zone subject to conditions. Animals are allowed to move between premises in different control zones.

"Bluetongue has so far been identified in 52 premises," said Kevin Pearce, NFU head of food and farming.

"The disease poses a potentially huge problem for British farmers and there is an awful lot unknown about it at the moment.

"No detailed knowledge is coming from EU states and we are relying on our contacts within Europe for information."

If bluetongue can be contained within the control zone, it might be possible to vaccinate animals in the control and protection zones next year, thus creating a buffer which would effectively halt the passage of the disease into the UK.

"Vaccination is probably the only piece of armoury in the tool box that we have to deal with this disease," said Pearce.

"There are three companies working on a vaccine and if orders are placed for it the companies will produce it.

"The NFU will press the government to place the orders but we need to establish the most effective vaccination strategy first."

One of the key areas of disagreement between farmers is whether the control zone should be extended to cover the whole of the UK, thus allowing free movement of animals.

Farmers from within the zone are facing severe animal welfare issues but farmers outside of the zone do not yet feel it is inevitable that bluetongue will spread throughout the country.

"Defra say that bluetongue is an industry problem but the only thing I have a say on is on shrinking or expanding the control zone, which is pitting farmer against farmer and is very divisive," said Pearce.

"The government needs to either provide sufficient support for farmers within the control zone or explain to the rest of the country the risk and why zones should be expanded."