Multiple cases of Schmallenberg have now been reported in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.
Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann has called on DAERA to direct ‘all necessary additional resources’ to its labs in light of the outbreak.
He said he was aware of reported cases in Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh, while yesterday Parklands Vets in Cookstown reported that it was aware of confirmed cases in the Mid Ulster area.
The virus, spread by midges, causes newborn calves and lambs to be deformed born alive or dead. Malformations include bent limbs, fixed joints spinal cord damage and brain deformities.
Mr Swann, the UUP’s agriculture spokesperson, said: “Reports of the disease in Northern Ireland are deeply worrying, albeit not completely unexpected. A few weeks ago I urged farmers to show vigilance after the disease was detected in several early lambing flocks just across the border with the Irish Republic and now I am aware of at least four suspected cases in Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh.
“Talking to some of those affected I am also aware of other anecdotal reports of large numbers of dead lambs in other flocks,” he added.
“It is essential that DAERA puts all necessary resources into its Stormont and Omagh Veterinary AFBI laboratories. Already I believe Omagh has been presented with a large number of lamb carcasses for post-mortems.
“Given the virus was spread by midges, and the fact we are still relatively early in the year for lambing and spring calving, I fear we may be on the cusp of a much more serious and widespread outbreak.
“Farmers are doing the right thing by presenting dead livestock which they fear have been infected by the Schmallenberg Virus, so now it is essential that the labs have the resources in place to allow them to respond to demand quickly and effectively,” added Mr Swann.
“Both AFBI labs here have the same opening hours of 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. The latest times carcasses can be dropped off is 4.30pm each day. I would urge DAERA to look at what can be done to increase the capacity between these hours, and consider whether the opening times should be extended to include the weekend. Over the next couple of weeks the scale of the outbreak will become clearer so it is essential that the operational decisions needed to respond to it are taken now.
“The Schmallenberg virus often leads to abortion and stillbirth of animals, but it also can cause the birth of weak, malformed animals. If farmers believe they have animals infected with the disease, as a first step I would encourage them to immediately contact their local veterinary practitioners for advice and guidance,” Mr Swann added.