Schmallenberg virus, which the latest DEFRA figures show has affected 83 holdings in 14 English counties (as of 27 February) as well as a number of our European neighbours, has gained significant coverage in the mainstream media in recent days.
It will take some time to see the true impact of the spread of this disease, but it is good to see the public take an interest in this virus which is clearly having an effect on livestock production business and profitability in affected areas.
It is, however, very important that consumers get the message loud and clear that Schmallenberg has no impact on human health as it is not transmissible to humans through either meat or dairy products. This was confirmed in a European Commission statement ratified by member states last month, and reiterated this week by the Food Standards Agency. Unfortunately this aspect is something which many news sources have failed to highlight.
Sheep farms are so far bearing the brunt of the virus, accounting for 78 of the confirmed cases (the remaining five are cattle). Anecdotal evidence suggests that in affected flocks mortality rates among new born lambs range from 5% to 20%.
It is too early in the lambing season to determine whether the virus will have a significant effect on supply, however we are obviously monitoring this emerging issue with concern. We cannot underestimate the impact of Schmallenberg on the farmers whose animals are affected, but all that can be done is being done and the industry is better prepared than ever to cope with the impact of a disease outbreak.
More information and guidance regarding the Schmallenberg virus can be found on the DEFRA website.
Over the next few days we will be producing a dedicated section on the EBLEX website where sheep and beef farmers will find links to all the latest information.