Restrictions on exporting sheep and cattle from Great Britain in place because of bluetongue disease will be lifted, Agriculture Minister Jim Paice announced today.
The restrictions were imposed in 2007, following the first cases of bluetongue in Great Britain.
Mr Paice said:
“This is great news for farmers - and it’s an achievement by farmers too. This is the result of a strong and successful partnership between government, farmers and vets to eradicate this serious disease.
“Our new Animal Health and Welfare Board for England is building on this partnership approach to create a better way to tackle animal diseases. There have been no new cases of bluetongue in Britain for two years, but farmers and vets need to remain vigilant and continue to be careful of animals they import.”
Bluetongue-free status will mean that animals exported from Great Britain to bluetongue free countries, mainly the Republic of Ireland, won’t require vaccination, or meet any other bluetongue requirements.
The disease is not currently found in Britain’s neighbouring countries, and animals entering Great Britain from bluetongue zones will continue to meet stringent import conditions. We will maintain testing of imported animals from high risk countries.
Once Great Britain is declared bluetongue free, livestock keepers will no longer be able to vaccinate under EU law. The Government are pressing for changes to be made at European level to allow farmers to use vaccination even when bluetongue zones aren’t in place.
Bluetongue Free status will take effect from 5 July 2011, so any farmers wishing to vaccinate should do so before this date.
Details on the new Animal Health and Welfare Board announced in April 2011 can be found at http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/04/26/responsibility-animal-health/.
The last case of bluetongue in Great Britain was in 2008 and we have demonstrated to the European Commission that we have had no cases for the last two years.
Bluetongue affects all ruminants, including sheep, cattle, deer, goats and camelids. It is spread by certain types of biting midges, and causes reduced milk yields, abortions, deaths and reduced fertility.
The first case in Britain was found in September 2007, with midges thought to have been blown over from the Continent. There have been no reports of active bluetongue in Northern EU Member States, with Hungary, Denmark and Sweden have all declared disease freedom, and other countries expecting to follow later this year.
The Bluetongue Directive doesn’t allow animals to be vaccinated unless a bluetongue zone is in place. The Government is pressing the Commission to change this so vaccination can be used more flexibly. In the meantime, we maintain a close watch for new outbreaks and if there was a greater risk of Bluetongue (for instance it was found again in parts of the Continent close to the coast), then we could declare ourselves a Low Risk Zone again to enable livestock keepers to vaccinate.
Farmers will be able to vaccinate their livestock until 5 of July 2011.