Representatives from the NFU toured the Institute for Animal Health this week to hear of progress in understanding Schmallenberg virus (SBV).
Among the delegation touring IAH, the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright in Surrey, was NFU president Peter Kendall, NFU vice president Adam Quinney and NFU South East Livestock Board chair Howard Bates. They met Professor Peter Mertens, IAH’s head of vector borne viral diseases and entomologist Dr Simon Carpenter at the facility which is currently undergoing a programme of major redevelopment with over £250M investment so far and a new high containment laboratory well on the way to completion.
Professor John Fazakerley, Director of the Institute for Animal Health said “We were very pleased to welcome the group from NFU. It is vital that we understand how our research can be of benefit to end-users in the agricultural community. With an unfolding issue like Schmallenberg good communication is essential and having the chance to discuss some of the issues face-to-face was extremely valuable.”
IAH is undertaking research to see whether Schmallenberg virus can replicate within midges and to understand the insects’ ability to pass on virus at different ambient temperatures. Culicoides midges are expected to be the main vector transmitting SBV to cattle and sheep, but mosquitoes are also being studied by IAH to ascertain whether they might play a role in virus transmission.
The Institute is also working on a test to detect antibodies in the blood of animals and will use mathematics and computing to put all available data, including weather measurements and maps of the cases so far, together so as to understand how the disease has spread.
NFU president Peter Kendall said “This invaluable work is another example of how dependant we are on the scientific community.”
And NFU vice president Adam Quinney emphasised how livestock farmers must continue to work with their vets to submit fresh samples from suspected cases for testing. “One of the best ways of scientists understanding this new virus is by farmers reporting it so we can map the spread of this disease and so we have the best information available to plan our future breeding cycles.”
NFU South East livestock board chair Howard Bates, a sheep farmer from Romney Marsh in Kent, said: “We were delighted to hear how UK scientists are working closely with their European colleagues to help our farming industry and there has been rapid progress. There is a diagnostic test to detect the virus in midges and animals and only yesterday IAH received news that colleagues elsewhere have developed a test that may be suitable for detection of antibodies in the blood of animals. The next step will be for this community of scientists to fine-tune the test so it can soon be deployed in the field. This will help farmers to pinpoint which animals have been exposed to SBV and so have developed antibodies.”
Mr Bates was joined on the tour by Surrey NFU chair Ian McCubbine and Surrey farmer Steve Conisbee, also a member of NFU SE livestock board.
Surrey NFU chairman Ian McCubbine said “Scientific research being undertaken in Surrey may well form the basis of future advice to all livestock farmers as we tackle this disease in the longer term. We may need to shift the timings of our breeding programmes to avoid periods of high midge activity.”