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Scottish government announces free Schmallenberg testing

: News & Articles : Schools and Farming : Scottish government announces free Schmallenberg testing
Posted on: 2012-09-01

The Scottish government has today announced that farmers in the country will be able to receive free Schmallenberg testing for animals imported from areas where the virus is circulating.

Schmallenberg, which was first discovered last Autumn in Germany, is affecting a number of European States, most acutely in Central Europe and along the North Coast of the European Mainland. Although the virus, which causes flu-like symptoms in ruminants and can lead to congenital deformities and stillbirth if pregnant animals are infected, is currently contained to South-East England, experts have said it could spread this season.

The virus is thought to be spread by midges and veterinary health experts announced earlier this year that SBV had overwintered in the English midge population, meaning the virus could spread throughout the UK as midges become active this year.

However, on Wednesday (29th August) the Scottish government announced that it would be implementing free testing in conjunction with NFU Scotland and the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) in an attempt to combat the potential spread of disease. Four blood samples per farm will be tested free of charge.

The tests will be available for sheep or cattle moving to Scotland from the area south of a line from Lincolnshire, to the Severn Estuary.

Upon announcing the testing, Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said, “News of any emerging disease is always concerning for farmers and livestock keepers However, we now have a clearer idea of how the virus spreads and the relatively short time taken for animals to develop immunity. By testing animals that have been recently moved to Scotland we will get an early warning if the virus arrives in Scotland and will be able to trace its spread.”

“This will allow farmers to make informed decisions about their breeding schedule which may help to minimise the impact of the virus and is an excellent example of Government and industry working together to face a common threat.”

NFUS spokesperson Nigel Miller said, "With Scotland probably at the northern edge of SBV's range, it is uncertain how the virus will behave if imported with autumn livestock movements. It is likely that autumn's lower temperatures will result in vector insect activity slowing, potentially stopping the spread of the virus.”

As livestock movements peak and midge activity increases over the next few weeks, in line with estimates of infections last year, there are concerns that SBV could spread to new areas establish in new areas, including Scotland. Some experts have suggested delaying breeding of native animals until midge activity drops in November to minimise impacts on foetal lambs or calves, as animals in early pregnancy are most at risk.

Mr Miller added, “Vaccine development is in progress and may provide more effective and flexible protection if a real threat to Scotland develops. We are in unknown territory as we enter the tupping season and autumn calvers go to the bull, however, any farmer that takes up the testing option and shares results can help Scotland minimise the problems of SBV next spring."

Kim Willoughby of the Virus Surveillance Unit at Moredun Research Institute said, "Research into Schmallenberg virus is underway in many countries. It was hoped the Schmallenberg virus might not overwinter in England but recent results have shown new infections are occurring now, and post-movement testing will allow Scotland to accumulate more knowledge about the risks of bringing in animals from affected areas." She added “It is unknown however whether the disease will establish in Scotland even if it is introduced.”

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