SCOTTISH farmers are being offered free tests to detect a virus which causes deformities in livestock.
Testing for the Schmallenberg virus (SBV), which is carried by midges, will be carried out free of charge on hundreds of cattle and sheep imported to Scotland from affected areas, including parts of England.
The move comes as the transporting of farm animals for breeding nears its peak, increasing the risk that the virus will emerge north of the border. There have been no reported cases of the virus in Scotland so far.
Earlier this week it emerged that there has been a huge rise in the number of midges in Scotland, fuelling fears of a potential SBV outbreak, and with no vaccine available concerns have been growing in recent months.
The Scottish Agricultural College will screen up to four animals per farm from livestock moving from areas known to be affected by SBV, after the National Farmers Union of Scotland agreed to cover the costs through a subsidy to cover 400 animals.
It comes just weeks after the farmers’ union asked the Scottish Government to consider active surveillance to prevent SBV from establishing a foothold in Scotland.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “By testing animals that have been recently moved to Scotland we will get an early warning if the virus arrives in Scotland and will be able to trace its spread.
“This will allow farmers to make informed decisions about their breeding schedule which may help to minimise the impact of the virus.”
Nigel Miller from the NFUS added: “As livestock movements peak over the next few weeks... SBV could establish in new areas, including Scotland.”
The virus was first identified last year and has since been detected across Europe including in the south of England, Belgium and France.