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Schmallenberg Virus

Environment Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 27th June 2012.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps she is taking to assist farmers to prepare for the possible reappearance of Schmallenberg virus in 2013.

Photo of James Paice James Paice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

A team of experts from DEFRA and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) constantly monitors disease in the UK and across the world. As a result, we are well informed of the threat of both emerging and spreading diseases. Schmallenberg virus (SBV) is not notifiable in the EU and as such there is no legal requirement to carry out surveillance for the virus. However, as little is known about the virus, the Government is supporting research to develop the SBV knowledge base. There are few clinical signs associated with acute infection in adults, and it is their offspring, born sometime after active infection during pregnancy that exhibit clinical signs.

During the winter there was a low level of midge activity, as determined by some of our late sheep cases, so we believe it likely that disease is still circulating, albeit at a low level. Therefore DEFRA continues to provide free testing for the virus for the time being. During the week commencing 25 June the AHVLA issued a questionnaire for completion by GB sheep farmers which will provide additional details of the prevalence of the disease, including the regional extent of infection and impact on affected farms. The benefit of surveillance at this time is under consideration. AHVLA is also raising awareness with farmers to be vigilant for any clinical signs of acute disease in dairy cattle.

A recently published report based on data gathered from all affected member states issued by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has detailed the low impact of this new disease for farmers across the EU. Positives at time of data collection were 3,745 holdings (cattle, sheep and goats) out of a total of just over 1.15 million premises in the eight affected member states. It also notes that immunity levels in affected regions are high thus reducing further disease in these areas. DEFRA is working closely with the farming industry, with the European Commission and EFSA and with international scientific experts to ensure the most up-to-date information and advice is provided to livestock keepers.

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