Britain's lambs being wiped out by killer virus from Europe amid fears disease could spread to humans
A virus which causes lambs to be born dead or with serious deformities is sweeping farms.
The Schmallenberg virus, which also affects cattle, has already struck 74 farms in southern and eastern England, killing thousands of animals.
Some farmers have reported losing 20 per cent of their lambs since it arrived in the country last month from Europe, where 1,000 farms are affected.
Lambs with the virus are either stillborn or have horrific deformities such as fused limbs, misshapen heads and twisted necks which mean they cannot survive.
Scientists are urgently trying to find out how the disease spreads to prevent it blighting Britain’s livestock like the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak which resulted in millions of animals being slaughtered.
The Food Standards Agency insists the risk to humans is low, and those who have been exposed to the virus have not experienced any adverse effects.
But the National Farmers’ Union has called the outbreak a ‘potential catastrophe’ for the industry which is already suffering from the economic downturn.
Named after the small German town where it was first spotted last summer, the disease is thought to have been brought to Britain by midges.
Ewes show no sign of illness until they give birth, by which time it is too late to save their young. As the lambing season has only just begun, the full impact of the tragedy is likely to be felt in the coming weeks.
Farmers have described the heartbreak of having to shoot lambs born deformed and unable to suckle to save them from a slow death. One farmer said he had put down more lambs than at any point in the past 20 years. Others described it as ‘soul-destroying’.
Alistair Mackintosh of the NFU said: ‘For any business to lose 20 per cent of your stock would be a huge blow. For a farmer it is catastrophic. If it was 50 per cent you would be put out of action.
‘I know one farmer who says 10 per cent of his 6,000 ewes have become barren, so that is 600 animals producing nothing.’
In Germany and Holland the virus was detected in adult cattle, causing symptoms including reduced milk yield. In Britain the calving season has not yet begun, so the impact on foetuses is not yet clear.
The counties worst affected so far are Norfolk, Suffolk, East Sussex and Kent but the virus has already spread along the south coast to Cornwall and parts of south Wales.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has not ruled out direct transmission between animals but said a ban on imports would be pointless as the disease is already here.
In 2007 millions of sheep and goats on British farms were killed as a result of bluetongue virus, which was also brought in by midges.
It has now been eradicated but farmers are concerned that a vaccine for Schmallenberg does not exist and could take 18 months to two years to develop.read on: http://bigwobblenews.blogspot.com/2012/02/britains-lambs-being-wiped-out-by.html