Bluetongue update

On Monday morning last Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan met with the Management Committee of her Department’s National Disease Control Centre this morning to review the most recent developments and assess the risk to Ireland in the light of these developments. Ms Coughlan said that, having discussed the situation with the Committee, she had concluded that the existing control measures were appropriate and she did not propose to introduce any additional measures at this time. On the confirmation of a declared outbreak of Bluetongue in England, Minister Coughlan emphasised that there were two principal means by which the disease could be introduced to Ireland – firstly, in an infected animal and, secondly, through an infected midge blown in on the wind. In relation to the first possibility, the Minister stressed that there is a ban on the importation of live susceptible animals from affected areas, including Britain.   Ms Coughlan acknowledged the possibility of infected midges being blown to Ireland and said that the developing situation would be monitored very carefully over the next few weeks given the virtual inevitability that the number of cases will continue to rise in Britain in the short-term, if the northern European experience is followed. The Minister also confirmed that her Department had invited the farm bodies to be briefed by officials on the current disease situation in Britain this week. Ms Coughlan said that these meetings reflected her commitment to work with the various stakeholders to minimise the risk to this country. Ms Coughlan also stressed the proactive approach which she and her Department have taken since Bluetongue emerged in northern Europe in August 2006. The Department has in place a vector surveillance programme, in association with the Department of Zoology in NUI, Galway and, since August 2006, has blood tested almost 1,400 animals non-Bluetongue restricted areas of Continental Europe as well as almost 2,400 native cattle and all have tested negative for the disease. Minister Coughlan said that her approach to the threat of the introduction of FMD or Bluetongue would continue to be proportionate to the risk.  Ms Coughlan said that she had discussed the situation in Britain with her Northern counterpart, Minister Michelle Gildernew last week and that they would further review the position this week, given their continuing joint commitment to maintain Ireland’s freedom from both FMD and Bluetongue. The Minister reminded farmers and veterinary practitioners that Bluetongue is, by law, a notifiable disease and that any suspicions of the disease must be reported immediately to her Department. In this regard, Ms Coughlan urged farmers, veterinarians and other handlers of livestock to remain vigilant and to check animals regularly and familiarise themselves with the clinical signs of the diseases and reminded people of the information and advice available on the Department’s FMD and Bluetongue websites – and