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Farmers losing blue tongue battle

A vaccination programme against the disease has been dogged by delays as 6,500 cases are reported in France this summer.

A vaccination programme against blue tongue disease has been dogged by delays as 6,500 cases have been reported in France since the beginning of the summer

The Ministry of Agriculture said battling the disease had so far cost €94million and added that a delay in vaccine production had slowed its vaccination campaign, leading more animals to become infected.

Production at the factory of French vaccine producers Merial in Pirbright, Surrey was halted on August 3 last year after it was linked to an outbreak of foot and mouth in the country.

A pipe connecting the facility to the Institute of Animal Health, a laboratory for identifying and monitoring outbreaks of foot and mouth, leaked the disease into the countryside.

In France, regions previously unaffected by the disease have started to report cases.

The virus is transmitted by midge bites and affects sheep and cattle. There have been no cases of it transferring to humans.

It appeared in the north east of France two years ago affecting several hundred animals, but since the number of infected per year has risen into thousands.

Warmer conditions in Europe have allowed the disease to spread northwards from the Mediterranean and Africa.

An emergency programme which treats only animals destined for export and those that will be used in transhumance has been put into action.

“We will roll out the vaccines gradually as soon as the laboratories can get them to us,” added a spokesman for the ministry.

Veterinary Sylvain Baudry who works in Evron in the Mayenne said: “The disease is evolving faster than we can treat the animals.”

Within the last month the department, which had previously been disease free, has reported 251 confirmed cases of blue tongue with a further 227 still under analysis.

The disease is having a catastrophic effect on farming in the region.

Farmer Christian de Lageneste who breeds cows in Genetinnes in the Auvergne said: “Blue tongue disease has reduced ten years of work to nothing.

“Since the end of June it’s been a catastrophe. I’ve lost 67 ewes and 15 lambs and the losses are growing everyday.”

The disease is fatal in 20% of sheep cases and 3% of cattle but has knock on effects for agriculture.

Another farmer Jacqueline Sevin, who breeds cows in Normandy said: “A cow hit by this diseases loses her calf and her milk production is totally thrown out or finished for good if she is no longer fertile.”

She said the disease was hitting the meat market with calves now being sold for half their normal price.

Photo: Frederick Florin

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