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Brussels, 15 November 2010

Animal Health: Commission proposal to improve prevention of Bluetongue disease and cut farmers' costs

The European Commission is taking advantage of technological developments to consolidate the suppression of Bluetongue disease in the EU. Today's proposal to amend Directive 2000/75/EC, expected to enter into force in 2011, updates current rules on vaccination. It brings them in line with recent technological developments in vaccine production thus allowing the use of vaccines in the whole territory of the EU. The wider and more flexible use of vaccines is also expected to limit Bluetongue's economic impact as direct and indirect losses to farmers (morbidity and mortality, disruption of trade in live cattle, sheep and goats) will be reduced.

Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli said: "In the past decade, Bluetongue has shown a tendency to spread into areas where it had never occurred before. Movement restrictions and surveillance alone were not enough to fight the disease. Vaccination has proven itself as the most effective tool to control and prevent the disease and to facilitate safe trade of live animals. Thanks to the massive vaccination campaign, and the recent development of new vaccines, 120 outbreaks were reported throughout the EU in 2010, compared to 45,000 in 2008". To conclude: "We have to learn from lessons from the past, and I think it is time to change the current rules on vaccination, so that we can better prevent future major outbreaks."

The disease

Bluetongue is a disease of ruminants –cattle, sheep and goats– which has caused major concerns and economic losses to European farmers in the last decade. It spreads through various mosquito-like flies, known as midges, that bite animals. This is why the infection is mainly seasonal and why most outbreaks occur during the late summer and autumn months. Because the disease is transmitted by midges, it can spread over large areas and across frontiers. This is also why an EU wide approach is needed to control and prevent the emergence and spread of the disease.

The proposal

The proposal to amend Directive 2000/75/EC follows the principle that "prevention is better than the cure" and allows more flexibility to the Member States to develop national vaccination strategies for the prevention and control of Bluetongue.

Currently, rules laid down in the Directive, prohibit the use of vaccination in areas that are now Bluetongue-free. The amendment changes this, thus opening the way for preventive vaccination, which is of paramount importance as it is difficult to predict where new outbreaks might emerge.

The amendment shall enter into force before the next Bluetongue season starts in 2011.


In 2006 and 2007, the EU faced the biggest outbreak of Bluetongue ever seen on its territory. The number of outbreaks in the EU has steadily been decreasing over the past three years. In 2008, a total of 45,000 outbreaks were reported across the EU. That number dropped to 1,118 in 2009 and only 120 so far this year.

The success is credited primarily to the vaccination campaigns in the Member States, co-financed by the European Commission, over the years. This year, the EU's financial contribution to the Member States' Bluetongue eradication and monitoring programmes stands at about 66 million €.

For 2011, the European Commission has already earmarked more than 16 million € to assist the Member States. For the years 2008 and 2009, when the mass vaccination campaign against Bluetongue was at its peak, the European Commission allocated approximately 150 million and 160 million € to the Member States' Bluetongue eradication and monitoring programmes.

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