New Schmallenberg outbreak in Netherlands

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The latest Dutch outbreak of the Schmallenberg virus did not come as a surprise, according to Deputy Agriculture Minister Henk Bleker.

Mr Bleker made the statement on Monday after meeting with EU colleagues. Earlier in the day it emerged that two calves, one in the province of Flevoland and one in Drenthe, had been diagnosed with the virus. Until now, the virus had only been diagnosed in sheep and goats.

The new disease, first identified in late 2011, leads to deformed or even stillborn young animals. As the gestation period of cows is longer than that of sheep or goats, it has only recently become clear that cattle can also be infected. The Schmallenberg virus, thought to be spread by midges, poses no danger to humans. 

The number of cattle farms affected by the outbreak jumped from 65 to 76 last week. Minister Bleker spoke of a “difficult financial setback and an emotional issue” for the farmers involved.

EU agriculture ministers have asked the European Commission to earmark funds for research into a vaccine. Mr Bleker promised he would fund research into the virus from his own budget instead of waiting for EU support to materialise.

The virus, named for the German town of Schmallenberg were it was first discovered, has since been diagnosed in four European countries: Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and mostly recently in the United Kingdom. Russia has reacted by banning the import of live sheep and goats and their meat. The ban does not affect dairy products from these animals.

The agriculture ministers have asked the European Commission to handle the situation as a European issue in the event that more countries introduce a similar ban.


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