Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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Bluetongue disease control framework set out

Plan developed in discussion with industry as government works to deploy vaccine for BTV-3

The government has today (23 May) set out how we will work with the farming industry to manage an outbreak of bluetongue virus in England this year.

Bluetongue virus is primarily transmitted by biting midges (Culicoides species) and affects cattle, sheep, and other ruminants such as goats and deer, and camelids such as llamas and alpacas. The virus does not affect people or food safety. 

The Bluetongue Serotype 3 Disease Control Framework was developed in discussion with the farming industry. It sets out how disease control efforts will focus on movement control of susceptible animals and their germinal products (semen, eggs, ova and embryos) as a precautionary tool to stem spread of the disease until a safe and effective vaccine for bluetongue virus serotype 3 (BTV-3) becomes widely available.  

The government is working hard to facilitate safe access to a BTV-3 vaccine as soon as possible, including actively engaging with vaccine manufacturers, but it is vital that any vaccine has the confidence of industry, consumers and trading partners.  

 Biosecurity Minister Lord Douglas Miller said:  

“It is vital that we proactively plan and prepare for any potential bluetongue incursion and outbreak so that the impact on farmers and livestock keepers can be minimised as far as possible. 

“We are actively engaging with vaccine manufacturers and industry about access to a safe and effective BTV-3 vaccine that has undergone thorough due diligence.

“All disease control decisions will be kept under constant review to ensure they remain proportionate and as effective as possible in controlling the spread of the disease.”

This includes understanding the efficacy of any vaccine, together with potential impacts on trade - a view shared by industry. Defra is actively monitoring vaccine data from EU countries and will continue to work with industry on any decisions on use of a deployable vaccine. 

Farmers should continue to monitor their animals frequently whilst making sure their livestock and land is registered with APHA with up-to-date contact details so animals can be located in the event of an outbreak.

Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Christine Middlemiss said:  

“The Bluetongue Disease Control Framework sets out how we will work to minimise the impact of a potential outbreak of disease, using the latest scientific and veterinary advice to reduce disease transmission as much as possible.

“We know that the likelihood of bluetongue virus entering Great Britain is increasing and so I would urge farmers to remain vigilant and report any suspicions to the Animal and Plant Health Agency.”   

Animal and Plant Health Agency Chief Executive David Holdsworth said: 

“The Animal and Plant Health Agency’s world-leading scientists, vets and field teams stand ready to tackle an outbreak of bluetongue virus and the deployment of APHA resources will be adapted to ensure the approach remains appropriate and proportionate.

“We will continue to work closely with farmers and animal keepers to ensure they are kept up to date and supported during any outbreak.” 

The Framework confirms that upon first detection of disease in England, 20km movement control zones will likely be established to prevent the movement of potentially infected animals and germinal products transporting disease to new locations.  

Movement control zones will be no bigger than is necessary to contain and slow disease spread. They will be kept under constant review and will be modified or withdrawn when they are no longer proportionate if disease circulation becomes widespread. Movement of animals within zones, as well as moves to slaughter will be permitted.  

Free testing will be offered for animals moving from the highest risk counties to live elsewhere in Great Britain to help guard against animal movements potentially transporting undetected disease to new areas. Tests will become available once the risk level increases.

Upon first detection of bluetongue virus, if there appears to be limited local spread, bluetongue control zones will be put in place alongside limited culling of infected animals to contain and eradicate disease. Keepers will be compensated the market value for any animals culled.

However, culling of infected animals will be limited as once bluetongue is known to be circulating in biting midges in an area, culling of livestock is not an effective control measure. 

The trajectory of any outbreak is difficult to predict but there is an active surveillance programme running, which involves the trapping of midges across the country and working with partners such as the Met Office to monitor the likely spread of the virus based on temperature and wind patterns. The situation will be kept under constant review and the views of industry will be routinely sought. 

The Framework follows the recent publication of APHA’s latest risk assessment of bluetongue virus entering Great Britain during 2024, which confirmed there is a very high probability of a new introduction this strain of the virus into livestock in GB through infected biting midges being blown over from northern Europe. 

Last November, APHA and The Pirbright Institute identified the first case of the disease in Great Britain through the annual bluetongue surveillance programme. Since then, there have been 126 bluetongue cases confirmed in England across 73 premises in 4 counties, with the last case confirmed on the 8 March 2024.  As of today there are no live cases of bluetongue virus.  All cases confirmed to date have been detected through active surveillance, with the animals likely infected in late autumn 2023. 

Due to their proximity to areas in northern Europe, where bluetongue is present, counties along the south and east coasts of England, including Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, and East Sussex, are considered most likely to be impacted by a wind-borne incursion of biting midges, but these could change if disease spreads in northern Europe. 

Bluetongue virus is a notifiable disease. Suspicion of bluetongue virus in animals must be reported to the Animal and Plant Health Agency on 03000 200 301 in England, on 03003 038 268 in Wales and to the local Field Services Office in Scotland.   

Farmers should continue to be vigilant and monitor their animals frequently, whilst maintaining up-to-date registrations for all livestock, land and buildings used to keep livestock, even short-term lets, so the location of susceptible animals can be traced to help prevent and control disease. Find out when and how to apply for temporary land arrangements (TLA) or a temporary CPH (tCPH).  

Farmers must also be aware of any movement restrictions in place before moving animals. More advice can be found on

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