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Industry leaders have welcomed the relaxation of bluetongue control zones – but say livestock producers must remain vigilant for the disease. Temporary control zones... Welcome relaxation of bluetongue control zones

Industry leaders have welcomed the relaxation of bluetongue control zones – but say livestock producers must remain vigilant for the disease.

Temporary control zones that have limited the movement of livestock to control the spread of bluetongue were removed on 19 February – easing difficulties for many sheep and beef farmers in Norfolk and Kent.

National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Due to a current reduced level of midge activity, some restrictions on movements of live animals from the temporary control zones have now been lifted.”

But farmers still face some restrictions to reduce the risk of the spread of bluetongue, added Mr Stocker. Defra has been operating with the aim of reducing the infection pool when the midge population rises in spring.

Risk remains

“There does remain a risk from infected pregnant females, due to the fact they can give birth to infected offspring, and from entire males as they can infect females either through natural service or through artificial insemination, so these animals are still restricted from movement.”

The relaxation means than any farm in a former controls zone that is as yet untested will be placed under an individual holding restriction requiring a vet attestation that any animal being moved is not pregnant, or entire in the case of males.

These animals will require negative tests prior to being moved. Castrated males and non pregnant females will be free to move to live and to slaughter.   

Mr Stocker said: “Although this update is positive news and will relieve the burden for many, we are keen to encourage farmers across the country to remain vigilant and aware of the risk of bluetongue, especially as the weather warms up into spring.

“Although the current outbreak has been isolated to parts of Kent and Norfolk it is perfectly possible that the disease could be far reaching across the UK as the year progresses.”

Stay informed

The National Sheep Association is continuing to work with industry to ensure the sheep sector is well informed and prepared coming into spring. Farmers are encouraged to keep abreast of developments by looking for updates on the AHDB website.

Bluetongue is carried by midges. Defra said there was currently no evidence that the virus was circulating. Colder weather and the associated decrease in temperature meant midge activity was much lower with midges not actively feeding.

“Low temperatures also mean that the virus cannot replicate in the midge, so even if a midge does feed on an infected animal, the risk of transmission to another animal is very low. This is called a low vector period.”

‘Be careful when it comes to movements’

The Animal Plant and Health Agency says farmers can resume livestock movements where there is no risk of disease spreading.

“Where there is a known disease risk, or unknown risk status, APHA will contact these premises directly to restrict specific animals within the premises,” says Aled Edwards, APHA head of field delivery England.

“APHA teams will continue to work closely with farmers to ensure that keepers and businesses are kept up to date, and that questions and concerns are addressed promptly.”

Bluetongue does not affect people or food safety. The virus is primarily transmitted by midge bites and affects cattle, goats, sheep and camelids such as llamas. The midges are most active between April and November and not all susceptible animals show signs of the virus.

The impacts on susceptible animals can vary greatly – some show no clinical signs or effects at all while for others it can cause productivity issues such as reduced milk yield, while in the most severe cases it can be fatal for infected animals.

Farmers are reminded that animals imported from bluetongue affected regions must be accompanied by the relevant paperwork to clearly show they meet certain conditions designed to reduce disease risk, such as correct vaccination.