Farmers struck by the blues

Chloe Smith

Farmers across large parts of Britain are on the alert for further cases of bluetongue and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), as hopes for a quick recovery from this disastrous summer fade.

Defra has set up a surveillance area for bluetongue and, as MTJ went to press, it was confirmed that midges had carried the virus on to a second premises in Lowestoft outside the Suffolk rare breeds farm, where the UK's first-ever cases were discovered. But it has also emerged that vaccinating against bluetongue, which Defra cites as part of its contingency plans for an outbreak, is not an option, because the vaccine for the strain identified both in Suffolk and across northern Europe is still in development.

David Catlow, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said farmers in northern Europe, where bluetongue has swept through thousands of flocks and herds, have "no choice but to live with it, because there is no cure. There is no medication that will kill the virus," he said.

"In the longer-term, we hope that an effective vaccination will be developed for BTV8, which is this particular serotype of disease, but no such vaccination currently exists on the market."

In the meantime, Defra has put eight counties on surveillance for bluetongue. Farmers in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire cannot move cattle and sheep outside of the zone,

but movements between farms

are being allowed, subject to

strict conditions.

Defra said because the disease was spread by midges, the "risk of disease spread can only be mitigated against to a limited degree". Should bluetongue start spreading, it added, "Treatment of midge breeding grounds such as manure heaps, as well as using repellents and approved pour-on insecticides on cattle and sheep, may reduce the risk of infection to some degree in certain circumstances." A freezing winter, which will kill midges, is now the best hope for eradicating the disease.

Meanwhile, a seventh case of FMD has been confirmed within the Egham protection zone in Surrey. This latest outbreak is the seventh since 3 August. Defra has published a new epidemiological report, which formally links the August FMD outbreaks with the latest September outbreaks. It concludes that the fifth premises was probably infected by mechanical transmission, either from Pirbright or one of the first two infected premises in the Elstead area.

There has been some relief for farmers, however, as Defra has relaxed movement restrictions outside the south-eastern counties of Essex, Kent, East and West Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Greater London. Farmers outside these areas can now move animals from farm to farm.