As Schmallenberg virus spreads across the UK, the British Veterinary Association has warned that we must protect our animal health surveillance system.
There have been cases of Schmallenberg virus in Devon; Dorset; Cornwall; Somerset; Co Laois and Co Cork; Worcs; Gloucs; Pembrokeshire; Cheshire; Northants and Carmarthenshire. It causes ewes to have abortions and causes major abnormalities in new-born lambs.
The BVA says that with precautions against avian influenza strengthened, these cases are a reminder that a robust surveillance system is vital to the health of UK livestock. Its survey showed that where there have been changes to post-mortem facilities since 2014, a third of vets affected thought their access to facilities had deteriorated. Where there have been laboratory closures, three-quarters of vets had seen carcase submission rates decline.
Gudrun Ravetz, BVA president, said: “Disease is unpredictable, particularly new diseases and novel strains of diseases in our increasingly globalised world. We need to be alert to the threat posed to our livestock, food chain and agricultural business by disease incursions.”
Disease control was identified by BVA members as one of their top three highest priorities in relation to Brexit, with vets citing zoonotic disease and a ‘break down in surveillance communication’ among issues they are most worried about.
“While we understand the need to update and, in places, consolidate laboratory services, our survey figures show how the closure of laboratories and the cutting of resource to APHA services affect vets’ and farmers’ access to laboratories,” said Ms Ravetz. “Vets’ front line roles must be recognised and supported, backed up by an effective, coordinated system of data capture that will enable us to make the links to detect and control new disease threats, protect food safety and safeguard animal and human health.”
As plans for exiting the EU progress, BVA is calling on the UK Government to ensure resources for existing disease control and eradication programmes and surveillance systems are maintained to ensure the UK has effective and adequately resourced systems for detecting new and emerging diseases.
It also calls for the maintenance of reciprocal surveillance data sharing with Europe, and internationally.