A scientific review of the Schmalleberg Virus that is spreading throughout Europe’s livestock sector has indicated that the virus poses no risk to human health, the World Organisaiton for Animal Health has reported.
The virus was confirmed in Germany in November 2011 and has since spread to herds throughout Europe and the United Kingdom.
It is transmitted by biting insects and causes miscarriages and birth defects in sheep, goats, cattle and bison.
The virus' rapid spread since its detection four months ago prompted Russia to ban imports of livestock and genetic material from Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Belgium and France earlier this month.
Further reports have since emerged that Russia’s state veterinary service, Rosselkhoznadzor, has also extended the ban to include imports of beef from the EU.
That development has not been widely reported and some European contacts have told Beef Central that while Russia has indicated it may ban beef, questions surround whether the ban on beef had yet been implemented.
Russia was the world’s largest beef importer in 2011, taking more than one million tonnes of beef.
That included about 128,498 tonnes from the EU.
By comparison, Australia exported 54,088 tonnes to Russia last year, ranking as our fourth largest export market for beef behind Japan, the US and Korea.
Russia is the EU’s second largest export market for beef behind Turkey.
European officials have stated that they believe the trade restrictions applied by Russia are unnecessary, as the virus is believed to pose no threat to humans.
The World Health Organisaiton has reported today that a meeting of scientific experts to review existing knowledge of the virus has found that the risk to human health is negligible.
The experts also determined that the viraemic period (the time during which the virus circulates in the bloodstream of an infected animal) of Schmallenberg virus is short, and that virus transmission most likely occurs by vectors such as mosquitoes or biting midges, with apparent similarity to the transmission of the bluetongue virus.
The experts identified areas of priority for research and collection of scientific data which will assist the development of appropriate prevention and control methods of the disease.
The experts also assessed the risk of the possible spread of the disease through trade.
They concluded that the risk of disease spread from trade in meat and milk is negligible.
For semen, embryos and live animals the experts made recommendations for safe trade.
Russia’s state veterinary service Rosselkhoznadzor has criticised the EU's biosecurity systems in a statement on its website.
It said the Schmallenberg outbreak had “again highlighted the incompetence” of biological security systems across the EU and within individual EU member countries.
“Last year there was an outbreak of highly pathogenic colibacillosis and its origin was never established; dioxin contaminated products got into the human food chain two years ago.
“This novel disease outbreak demonstrates that the European Union is not ready for new threats and risks resulting from new disease agent occurrence.
“Currently the European Union is facing the problem of development of cheap and reliable diagnostic test-systems, development and production of specific vaccine that on its own requires the research intensification of virus biological and epidemiological peculiarities.”