The livestock industry has set out bold ambitions to eradicate two key livestock diseases within 10 years.
Plans to eliminate sheep scab and Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) by 2031 were announced following a Ruminant Health and Welfare (RH&W) workshop attended by more than 70 farmers, vets, researchers and industry stakeholders from across the UK.
RH&W chair Nigel Miller said setting the eradication target underlined the determination of participants to create a new high-health environment across the four nations. It would elevate animal welfare and help to secure export markets.
“We need this health platform to elevate animal welfare and play a part in securing export markets,” saod Mr Miller. “We are going into a period of extraordinary change; we have got to be willing to push back on the accepted boundaries of health and production.
“World class economic efficiency and the building pressures of low carbon production demand a higher national flock and herd health status; mapping out clear change targets is a vital step to secure that goal.”
Sheep scab, now endemic in the national flock and affecting 10-15% of farms with about 8,000 outbreaks each year costing up to £202 million, was one of the most popular topics selected for debate.
Stewart Burgess, from the Moredun Research Institute, said a new vaccine would help but interim goals like notifiable or reportable status would create a traceable, sustainable framework for success.
“The reality is that there are imminent threats and the status quo is not working, Modelling studies have shown that focussing control on disease hotspots not only makes gains in those targeted areas, but can also have a significant impact on sheep nationwide.”
The sheep scab ELISA blood test was a real game changer, said Dr Burgess.
“It can detect scab in the first two weeks of infestation and before clinical signs – a new version is in development and would offer on-farm results in under 20 minutes for less than £5.”
A future vaccine was also under development at Moredun. “In its current form it has up to 80% efficacy and will offer sustainable control of scab.”
Kate Hovers, from the Wales Veterinary Science Centre, said disease control schemes and health certification for scab offered benefits throughout the sector – both in controlling disease and offering a premium for certified stock.
BVD eradication, another priority for the group, is already in progress through different statutory and voluntary efforts in each UK nation. Introducing mandatory control will be the next step with co-ordinated messaging and approaches.
Sam Strain, chief executive at
Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland (AHWNI), was heavily involved in establishing NI’s compulsory BVD programme, and strongly advised that legislation was critical for eradication.
Re-engagement was high on the list of interim goals. “Any control programme needs to have co-ordinated messages between the four nations – being cognisant of international requirements such as the EU Animal Health Law.