NBA Scotland calls for purchase of bluetongue vaccine

The National Beef Association is calling on the Scottish government to buy stocks of bluetongue (BT) vaccine.

The National Beef Association has written to cabinet secretary, Richard Lochhead, calling for an urgent meeting at which it will ask the Scottish government to buy stocks of bluetongue (BT) vaccine.

The move comes after the Association's Scottish Council unanimously agreed that without access to suitable quantities of vaccine Scotland would be unable to protect itself against a virus which could create severe economic and welfare problems for all its livestock farmers.

"If there is a fire there has to be a fire extinguisher and if wind blown midges are the carriers of a virus that has been, and will again be, circulating perilously close to Scotland it is no good relying on lines on the map for protection," explained NBA Scotland chairman, Iain Mathers.

"If vaccine stocks are acquired before bluetongue problems re-ignite in England, and other countries of North-West Europe, next summer it will put Scotland's livestock industry in a comfort zone that would be impossible to match if vaccine was not to hand."Purchasing adequate quantities now does not mean they must be used regardless of what happens in England this summer. But if, as expected, bluetongue spreads like a scrub blaze from July-August onwards Scotland will at least have the fire extinguisher immediately to hand."

In contrast to other stakeholders on the Scottish animal health group the NBA has consistently promoted vaccine as the only sensible and effective method of protection.

"The Association appreciates the difference between buying vaccine and using it. It has a twelve month shelf life so stocks purchased this summer would still be on hand in spring 2009 if Scotland is lucky and is not threatened by bluetongue this summer," said Mathers.

"But if vaccine is available the option to use it, or store it, is always there to take. The NBA wants to put BT vaccine firmly on the agenda. Other industry organisations, and the Scottish Government itself, have avoided discussing it but we are convinced that if no vaccine is in store there is too great a risk of the livestock sector being left defenceless."

According to the NBA the best time to vaccinate is in early June because cattle need two injections and immunity does not develop until six weeks after the first.

"There is a clear need to look ahead. If Scotland feels it needs to protect its livestock industry when BT re-emerges in late July then an initial vaccination, very early in June, is imperative," said Mathers.

"No one can guarantee Scotland will not be hit by BT this summer and concentrating exclusively on livestock movement restrictions for protection will do nothing to prevent the arrival of infected air-borne midges."

"England was the first EU country to order vaccine to protect itself and other Member States are expected to follow. If Scotland rejects the vaccine option its cattle and sheep farmers will have no direct defence against economic and animal welfare calamity and the country itself will be left even further behind."

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