A SHEEP farmers’ leader has called for better tracking of the Schmallenberg Virus once it has been confirmed in a county.

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA), said there was a ‘concerning lack of data on the level and scale’ of disease spread in Britain – and he has called on the Gov-ernment to increase its monitoring.

He spoke out as the first Cumbrian cases of the midge-borne virus, which causes deformities in new-born lambs and calves, were detected in cattle on South Lakeland farms.

Mr Stocker said: “Anecdotal reports from France and other areas of Europe suggest Schmallenberg may be causing more problems in its second year than expected, possibly because live-stock does not develop the level of immunity anticipated.

“The lack of statistical evidence means we cannot predict if we will have an on-going problem, but the industry as a whole should be very concerned by the absence of data we have and what has been seen in some early lambing flocks.”

The NSA said the Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) and other government agencies only collected data on the distance the disease has spread and did not gather any additional information after the disease had been confirmed in a location.

Mr Stocker said: “This means there is a concerning lack of data on the level and scale of the problem – a situation unlikely to change because of financial constraints.”

He pointed out that AHVLA would be forced to collect the data as Schmallenberg was a notifiable disease, but this would not be in the interest of the industry, due to the implications it would have on trade between UK and other countries, including in the EU.

Mr Stocker added: “It would be great if the Government could collect this data, so we better understood the situation and how to implement control strategies, including vaccination programmes, once a vaccine is available.

“However, given the reality of the situation, NSA feels very strongly that industry should pull together and ensure a solution is found.”