European bluetongue move welcomed

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has welcomed a European Parliament move that paves the way for the UK to qualify for bluetongue-free status.

The EU Parliament has backed European Commission proposals to allow Member States to vaccinate against bluetongue even if they are outside the restricted zones. This means the UK will move from its current status as a Low Risk Zone and qualify for disease-free status while still retaining its ability to vaccinate.

The new rules are expected to be approved by EU Farm Ministers in May and should come into force in June.

Alistair Mackintosh, NFU livestock board chairman, said: “If all goes to plan this will mean that we will have the protection levels associated with being disease-free, which means imports from protection zones will have to be vaccinated or tested before they come in, and we can export without having to vaccinate. It’s a ‘win-win’ for the industry.

“We have been working proactively with Defra and our NFU office in Brussels to change this legislation and we are pleased that it finally looks set to happen. However, this decision still has to be ratified by EU Council in May and we will need to look closely at the finer details.

“It is important to remember that while cases across the EU were limited last year, and present risk levels are low, we are seeing some member states move from compulsory to voluntary vaccination programmes. We know how quickly the bluetongue virus can spread, so it is essential that we have the ability to vaccinate and protect ourselves against any future outbreaks across Europe. The only way to protect UK cattle and sheep from this disease is through vaccination.

“Crucially, this decision will mean that we will also retain our ability to vaccinate voluntarily which gives our farmers the flexibility and protection they need. I firmly believe that if you give farmers the tools and correct opportunities they can manage and control disease.”

There have been no cases of bluetongue (BTV8), the viral disease that affects sheep and cattle, in the UK since 2008 and the last national surveillance exercise carried out in November 2009 showed the UK is free from circulating disease.

Last year the UK became a Lower risk Zone (LRZ), which meant that imports into the country had to meet additional requirements.

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