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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Bluetongue Disease, Avian Influenza and Foot and Mouth Disease

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I wish to report to the House on the latest developments on last year’s outbreaks of Bluetongue and Foot and Mouth Disease, and the recent cases of Avian Influenza in Dorset.

Bluetongue

Following confirmation of Bluetongue on premises located within the then restricted zones, the Bluetongue protection and surveillance zones were extended on 8 and 13 February. After confirmation of the disease on premises in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Greater London, Surrey and Sussex, the protection zone has been expanded westwards and into Eastbourne. A further case in Dorset has required that a separate protection zone be established covering all of Dorset and the New Forest. The surveillance zone now extends into all of Somerset and Devon and into the south-east corner of Wales. We are currently consulting industry representatives as to whether Cornwall should be included in the surveillance zone. Bluetongue has now been confirmed on a total of 80 premises since the outbreak was first discovered last year.

All of the infected animals on the recently confirmed premises were found as a result of pre-movement testing, which is currently required before animals can be moved out of the surveillance and protection zones during the vector-free period, which was declared from 20 December. This requirement is proving to be useful surveillance and is helping to identify previously undisclosed infected premises. Some 40,000 livestock have been tested under pre-movement testing. All evidence suggests that the infected animals on the newly confirmed premises were infected before the vector-free period commenced; there is no evidence to suggest that virus is circulating in the UK at present.

Following the extensions of the surveillance and protection zones, a voicemail message was sent to known keepers in the zone extensions who are registered on Animal Health’s database. Each of these premises were also issued a letter with accompanying leaflets on how to spot disease.

In agreement with the core group of industry stakeholders, the UK remains in Phase 1 of the UK
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Bluetongue disease control strategy—that is, seeking to contain disease rather than living with it. At present, we are not intending to move to a zone covering the whole country in advance of vaccine being available. However, this situation remains under review as events develop.

Bluetongue Vaccination Plans

Yesterday, I announced the publication of the UK vaccination plan, which sets out the proposed approach to vaccination in the months ahead. The plan, which is publicly available on the Defra website, has been sent to the European Commission, alongside a request for EU co-funding, should such funding be available on acceptable terms.

As part of the plan, Defra has placed an order with the animal health company Intervet for 22.5 million doses of Bluetongue vaccine. 20 million doses are reserved for use in England and 2.5 million doses are reserved for potential use in Wales. In keeping with the principles of the Bluetongue control strategy, livestock keepers in the protection zone will be able to purchase vaccine from the bank through their private vets. Intervet has indicated that vaccine will begin to be available from May.

The UK is the first country dealing with the current outbreak of BTV-8 in Northern Europe to make an order for vaccine. This will ensure that vaccine will be available in England and Wales as soon as possible.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1

Following confirmation on 10 January that the H5N1 strain of avian influenza had been isolated in three dead wild mute swans in the Chesil Beach area in Dorset, a wild bird control area and a monitoring area were established. The control area was larger than the minimum required under European rules and reflected expert ornithological advice about the movement of mute swans and other wild birds in the area.

Movement restrictions were introduced, including a requirement on bird keepers to house their birds or
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otherwise isolate them from contact with wild birds and a ban on bird gatherings. 10 dead mute swans submitted under the surveillance programme have been confirmed with the H5N1 virus, and the last positive sample was collected on 29 January and confirmed on 4 February. In addition we sampled 60 apparently healthy mute swans and faecal samples from other wild birds but with negative results.

Taking into account epidemiological evidence, a veterinary risk assessment and—as provided for under European rules—that it is now 21 days since the collection of the last positive case, I have today confirmed the lifting of the control area.

I have also reassessed the shape and size of the monitoring area, and have decided that this should not be changed at the moment. On the basis of advice from veterinary and ornithological experts I have concluded that the possibility of continuing undetected infection in wild birds other than swans cannot be ruled out and that retention of this wider monitoring area for a little longer would therefore be prudent. However, we will keep the situation under constant review. The European rules provide for the area to be lifted only when at least 30 days have elapsed since the last positive sample was collected. My aim is to return poultry keepers to normal business arrangements as quickly as possible.

Animal Health is contacting keepers in the area to advise them of how the changes will affect them. In addition we are reminding all keepers that the country remains at a constant, albeit low risk, from H5N1. Therefore it is vital that keepers remain vigilant and take precautionary measures to isolate kept birds from wild birds.

Foot and Mouth Disease

Finally, following last August’s outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, Defra is continuing to work closely with the OIE to regain full FMD free status at the wider international level.


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