NFU Scotland believes that a surge in the number of cattle being imported into Scotland threatens the nation’s freedom from Bluetongue, a devastating disease of livestock that has been present in parts of Europe in recent years.
Scotland has remained free of the disease through a compulsory vaccination campaign in 2009 as well as a successful voluntary industry ban on imports of livestock to Scotland from affected parts of Europe.
In late March, Scottish livestock stakeholders comprising of NFU Scotland, the Scottish Beef Cattle Association, the National Sheep Association and the National Beef Association called for Scottish livestock producers to continue to adhere to a voluntary ban on livestock imports from April until November of this year. This corresponds with the high-risk period for the transmission of the Bluetongue virus (BTV). The group would support the safe import of livestock from Europe during the next low risk period for the disease, expected to commence in November 2010.
The vast majority of Scotland’s livestock keepers have stuck to the voluntary ban but the Scottish Government has confirmed that seven shipments of cattle from Holland and Germany have arrived in South-west Scotland since the start of April. These were legal imports carried out under existing EU rules and the animals involved, predominantly dairy heifers, have been subject to the required post movement testing for the disease.
In recent days, veterinary experts, including the British Veterinary Association, have warned all cattle and sheep farmers that a major Bluetongue threat still exists due to the extremely high numbers of animals being imported to Britain from mainland Europe, urging producers to continue vaccinating against the disease.
NFU Scotland Vice-President, Nigel Miller said:
“To safeguard our freedom from all strains of BTV and to ensure all the efforts of the last two years are not wasted, representatives of Scotland’s livestock bodies have asked all livestock producers to avoid imports during the period of April to November 2010. Unfortunately, some are not listening.
“It is the opinion of veterinary experts that these imports into Scotland, while legal, still pose a real threat to our disease-free status. I would urge all livestock producers considering imports at this time to take a step back and think about the wishes of their neighbours and fellow livestock farmers as well as giving serious consideration to the veterinary advice.
“Importing livestock at this time of the year, when the activity of both the Bluetongue virus and the midges responsible for its transmission are highest, is a risk too far. For the sake of our industry, I would urge producers to put off import plans from Europe until we reach the low risk window this coming winter. Given what is at stake, I think that is a reasonable request to make.
“The threat of Bluetongue united our livestock producers, the Scottish Government and vets in the common goal of keeping our country free from this devastating livestock disease. Our successful vaccination programme in 2009, reinforced by the strong industry-led voluntary curb on imports of livestock from high-risk areas, created a fortress against the disease.
“The vets believe that the level of protection against Bluetongue that we have worked so hard to establish is genuinely threatened by any imports at this time of year. The number of cases of BTV in Europe may be falling, but risks remain. The use of vaccine is now voluntary in many countries, including Scotland, and as natural immunity against Bluetongue begins to drop in mainland Europe, there is a real possibility the disease could flare up once again this summer. A voluntary ban on imports, coupled with a continued voluntary vaccination programme is the most robust defence we have against bringing Bluetongue to Scotland.”
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