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Schmallenberg virus meat processing sector impact: ‘Only time will tell’

By Mark Astley, 28-Feb-2012

Related topics: Testing, Public Concerns

The true impact of the livestock-related Schmallenberg virus on the meat processing industry will not be known for a few more months, according to the British Meat Processing Association (BMPA).

BMPA director Stephen Rossides told FoodProductionDaily.com that the British meat processing industry is going into “unchartered territory” in trying to forecast the impact of the newly-discovered Schmallenberg virus.

The disease, which was named after the German town where it was first identified in December 2011, has been pinpointed as the cause of abortions and stillbirths in sheep, cattle and goats in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

The infection has since been identified on 83 farms in the south and east of the UK.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) is advising the public that “there is unlikely to be any risk to consumers through the food chain from the virus that is causing abnormalities in livestock.”

“Only time will tell”

BMPA director Rossides refused to speculate on the virus’ impact on the meat processing sector.

“It will only be in the next few months in which we will see the impact of this disease on the meat processing industry,” said Rossides. “There are no measures to implement at the moment because these supplies, these new born lambs, are not going to come on to the market for a while.”

“I’m sure people are thinking ‘what if’, but it will be a while before the real impact of this virus on the meat processing sector is known.”

“This is unknown territory. It has come out of the blue. But we will be monitoring the situation very closely.”

“Only time will tell,” added Rossides.

83 infected farms

According to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), Schmallenberg virus infection has been identified on 83 farms – five in cases of cattle and 78 in sheep.

The virus is in the Simbu serogroup of the Orthobunyavirus group, which are commonly found in Asia, Africa and Australia.

None have previously been identified in Europe until recently.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is currently working with Member States to collect data on the virus.

“Once the data have been collected, EFSA will provide an overall assessment of the impact of the Schmallenberg virus infection on animal health, animal production and animal welfare together with a state-of –the-art review on what is known about the virus,” said a statement on the EFSA website.

“There is currently no evidence that the Schmallenberg virus could cause illness in humans,” it added.