GOVERNMENTS must continue to be careful that map lines designed to slow down the spread of bluetongue do not wreak more economic damage on the livestock industry than the disease itself.
This message was passed on again this week by the National Beef Association, even though Defra has already agreed in principle that slaughter stock can be moved from inside the BT control and protection zones to approved abattoirs in other parts of England.
“The Association is pleased that Defra will allow feeders on the wrong side of the BT line to direct finished stock to English customers with whom they have long-standing arrangements and so help to repair important food chain supply lines that have recently been damaged,” said NBA director Kim Haywood.
“However, the industry does not yet know what exactly is required of abattoirs before they are approved by the MHS to receive animals that have travelled from the BT zone – and other problems are certain to emerge unless plants in Wales and Scotland can also process stock that has been fed, and finished, inside current, or newly emerged, BT areas.”
According to the NBA, abattoirs in England that wish to take stock from east of the BT line must apply to handle these animals and then demonstrate that they can meet the required Defra criteria.
“This means that permission to slaughter these animals will not be automatic. It is also possible that approval will require the compulsory use of insecticides, and acquisition of these, if it is required, could take time,” said Ms Haywood.
“All of this suggests that the clearance of the huge backlogs that have already built up behind the BT line will have a much slower start than expected and it has to be hoped that Defra’s demands on chemical use, and other conditions, will be sensible and proportionate.
“It is also unfortunate that large abattoirs, like the St Merryn plant at Merthyr Tyddfil in Wales are not yet available to regular Tesco suppliers because the Welsh government has still to give permission. Similarly, Welsh lamb processors are blocked to any sheep moving off farms that lie east of Birmingham.
“The NBA’s view is that bluetongue controls should not prevent any feeder or finisher from benefiting from the first principles of an open market by being able to move specifically selected slaughter stock directly to their first choice processor.
“Bluetongue is a disease that is spread by midges, not by animals, and containment of slaughter animals is a step too far,” Ms Haywood added.
The bluetongue virus continues to spread north in Europe and has now been detected in sheep at the Danish island of Lolland, authorities said this week.
The virus is carried by a species of tiny fly once common only in Mediterranean areas. However, since August 2006, outbreaks have occurred in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and The Netherlands.
It was detected in Britain for the first time last month. Experts say it may now be endemic in northern Europe.
It is hoped a vaccine will be developed next year, but until then the only hope to contain it is a long cold spell this winter, which will kill off the disease carriers.