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The predictable has happened.
An idiot farmer in the south of England
legally imported rams from a Bluetongue Protection Zone in France,
thereby introducing new cases of Bluetongue serotype 8 disease into England.

James Irvine

Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie, Perthshire

Filed 27 Aug 08
©www.land-care.org.uk

With the crass maladministration by the EC authorities over the management of such a serious viral diseases of livestock as bluetongue, it was entirely predictable that some farmer would take advantage of the nonsensical EC rules to selfishly seek what he perceived might be a short term trade advantage for himself. And so it turned out to be.

It is well known, and widely publicised, that clinical cases of bluetongue disease due to Bluetongue virus serotype 8 (BT8) is currently rife in France and in other EU countries. It is widely known, and publicised, that vaccination against BT8 is far from complete in France. Just how effectively it has been carried out in England is also not known.

England had a number of cases of BT8 last year. The EC essentially failed to get a collective EU policy together in terms of an effective EU vaccination programme. England, to give it its due, was among the first to get on and place an order for the development and delivery of vaccine to BT8. But England adopted a voluntary policy with regard to BT vaccination, so no one really knows what livestock in England have actually been effectively vaccinated.

In the interests of trade rather than science the EC permits the free movements of livestock between so-called Protection zones throughout the EU, irrespective of whether the disease is rife or not in the different countries with such Protection Zones. Worse, the EC will not allow a country or zone to have a derogation against the import of livestock from Protection Zones into a disease-free country or zone that is trying to protect itself with an effective vaccination programme before the disease arrives. Far from being a "protection" policy, the EC management of the disease provides an effective recipe for its spread.

As England has managed to get a hold of more vaccine against BT8, quite understandably it wants to extend its vaccination programme, albeit a voluntary one, right up to the Scottish Border. Indeed, defra has given due notice that Cumbria and Northumberland are likely to be declared to be included within an all England Protection Zone on 1st September (next Monday). The authorities, both north and south of the border, encourage farmers to do their cross-border trade, or shift livestock accordingly, before 1st September. That is because Scotland is still bluetongue disease-free. Sensibly, livestock are not allowed to move from a Protection zone into a disease-free zone unless there is proof that they have been effectively and competently vaccinated and have certificate to verify it.

But again the crazy EC rules defeat the purpose. All it takes is some selfish farmer, like the one in the south of England, to import livestock from disease-ridden France into Cumbria or Northumberland after 1st September. Farmers would be perfectly entitled to do so under EC regulations, All the midges would than have to do is to be blown across the metaphorical fence between England and Scotland. The high density of unvaccinated livestock, particularly in the south west of Scotland, would be highly vulnerable - especially at this time of year. And Scotland has only 1 million doses of vaccine in store and not enough coming in time. Sadly, the Scottish Government opted to go a for a vaccination programme which they hoped would not start until the Vector Free Period in December, or thereabouts. Wishful thinking is not the way to control viral epidemics.

While NFU Scotland huffs and puffs and complains to Hilary Benn about the English rolling out their vaccination programme right up to the border (as the English have consistently said they would), NF|U Scotland have been conspicuously backward in demanding a derogation from the EC rule that insists that livestock from diseased areas can freely move into a disease-free country that is mounting an intelligent vaccination programme in order to protect itself. Also, NFU Scotland and other Scottish stakeholders, would have done well to have insisted that the Scottish Government ordered its 12 million dose supply of vaccine very much earlier in the year, or indeed at the same time as England did on 20th December 2007. Rather they and others, wasted valuable time arguing as to who was going to pay for it. In spite of all the advanced warnings about bluetongue possibly reaching the UK, the Scottish Government did not have a coherent contingency plan.

Now Scotland has got itself into a right mess. Next week it will have a so-called Protection Zone right at its borer with England, with thoughtless farmers selfishly but legitimately able to import beasts from anywhere within disease-ridden EU right to its doorstep.

Worse, there are some in Scotland who are arguing that, even although Scotland will not have sufficient supplies of vaccine, that the whole of Scotland should become a Protection Zone as soon as the first beast in Scotland is vaccinated, or presumably as soon as the first case of BT8 appears in Scotland. Since it is trade considerations that are driving such an argument, it should not be difficult to see why such a plan is likely to be a disastrous recipe for the spread of bluetongue disease throughout Scotland. If that were to happen, not only would it be an appalling welfare issue for Scotland's livestock, it would most surely ruin the trade that those who advocate such a policy are so keen to protect.

It is more than time that a number of EU Member States urgently got together to persuade the EC to conduct itself more logically in the management of bluetongue disease, and to do so urgently. They should realise that a "Protection Zone" has come to be regarded as a "Disease Propagation Zone". There will be other viral diseases of livestock to come. The EC has to abandon its severely damaging rule that a disease-free country at risk of getting disease must be able to have the opportunity to vaccinate its livestock effectively BEFORE allowing disease-carrying animals from else where in the EU to legitimately enter it.

In the absence of such a change in EC ruling, Scotland should consider simply imposing a ban on the import of livestock into Scotland from any Protection zone until such time as it can complete its belated vaccination programme. Yes, it will be very hard on trade. But better to have a trade left at the end of the day, than no trade at all.

©www.land-care.org.uk