Imported EU genetics must pass Schmallenberg test

New testing requirements have been slapped on imports of livestock genetics from the European Union, the goal being to keep the new Schmallenberg virus out of Canada.

Starting Friday (April 27), breeding livestock must test negative for the Schmallenberg virus before their embryos or semen can be exported to Canada from countries in the EU.

The requirements specifically apply to sperm from bovines, sheep, goats, bison and water buffalos, and to embryos from bovines and bison. Canada already does not allow live cattle, sheep or goats to be imported from Europe.

"The (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) is taking these measures to protect our national herd from the production losses and economic consequences associated with this emergent animal disease," Dr. Brian Evans, Canada’s chief veterinary officer, said in a release.

The Schmallenberg virus is a new strain from a group of viruses that are transmitted by "vectors" such as ticks, mosquitoes, biting flies and midges. It hasn’t been shown to transmit directly from animal to animal, except in a "trans-placental" path from dam to fetus.

The virus is currently circulating in Europe, where according to the European Commission it’s so far been detected in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, the U.K., France, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain.

Information on the Schmallenberg genome suggests it’s part of the bunyaviridae family of vector-transmitted viruses, mostly found in ruminants in Asia, Australia and Africa and in the Middle East, specifically Israel, the EC said.

The Schmallenberg strain appears to cause a range of symptoms in ruminants, including fever, diarrhea and reduced milk yield, as well as birth defects.

According to the EC, the EU countries are thus reporting on any "suspicious abortions, stillbirths or congenital malformations."

There’s no evidence that the virus could cause illness in people, the EC has said.

From Canada’s viewpoint, the virus hasn’t yet been classified as a reportable, immediately notifiable or annually notifiable disease, but is being monitored by CFIA.

"We continue to collaborate closely with regulatory officials in Europe to respect their control measures and the evolution of the scientific understanding of the disease," Evans said Friday.

Related story:
Negligible risks to humans from new animal virus: OIE, Feb. 17, 2012

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