European Union sheep farmers whose profits are being cut by the Schmallenberg virus that causes birth defects in lambs won’t know the extent of the disease until later this month, said the U.K. National Farmers Union.
The virus has been identified on 83 farms in the U.K., including 78 sheep farms, though is “very unlikely” to transfer to humans, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The virus has been found on 1,342 farms in the EU, including 718 in Germany, the National Beef Association said on Feb. 29.
Schmallenberg, which affects new-born lambs and calves, has had a “limited impact on farms” and is being monitored, said Nigel Gibbens, Defra’s chief veterinary officer, said today in an e-mailed statement. The number of the U.K.’s 68,000 sheep farms affected by the disease is quite small, said Peter Garbutt, chief livestock adviser for the NFU. The country is the fifth-biggest producer of sheep meat, United Nations data show.
“We need to keep the scope of the disease in proportion,” Garbutt said by phone today. “March is when we’ll see whether this problem grows or not. It’s a big deal for farmers affected but when you put it into context, the number of farms affected is very small. How that fits into consumer perception I don’t know. We have to see how we get through lambing season.”
The Schmallenberg virus is named after the German city near where it was first identified in November. It was probably spread by biting midges last year, infecting pregnant sheep, cows and goats, according to Germany’s Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, which discovered it.
The virus is hurting farmers’ profits, according to a statement from EBLEX, an English beef and sheep meat industry group.
“It will take some time to see the true impact of the spread of this disease, but it is having an effect on livestock production business and profitability,” EBLEX said. “From a supply point of view, it is important to understand that there is no impact on human health as it is not transmissible to humans through either meat or dairy products.”
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