At least 30,000 sheep in our country have already died from the bluetongue virus. This is evident from new calculations by the Dutch Sheep and Goat Breeders’ Organization, which emphasizes that bluetongue will also become prevalent among sheep in 2024. At carcass processor Rendac, the number of dead sheep delivered is eight to nine times higher than normal.
Frank van den Heuvel, Chris van Mersbergen
For sheep farmers in particular, this is an enemy that is difficult to combat; The bluetongue virus transmitted by the mosquito mosquito affects cows and goats to a lesser extent. Bart Kemp, himself a sheep farmer and leader of farmers’ interest group Agractie, is ‘very concerned’, he says. “The temperature remains high, sick and dead animals arrive every day. The development of a vaccine has not even started yet, and it will soon be spring again.”
According to the Dutch Sheep and Goat Breeders’ Organization (NSFO), 30,000 sheep have now died from bluetongue, out of a total of almost 1 million in the Netherlands. In mid-October, excess mortality was still estimated at 10,000 sheep. About one in eight sheep farmers, about four thousand in total, are dealing with dead animals due to the virus.
“And that 30,000 is a conservative estimate,” says Reinard Everts, director of the NSFO. “Affected sheep farmers go through all phases of grief. I see sadness, anger, resignation, denial. The disease process is therefore quite intense to watch. You see a lot of tissue damage, kidney and liver problems, and extremely abnormal blood values. Often there is no saving it. If they were people, you would put them on a drip and on a ventilator in intensive care. But that is impossible.”
Cadaver company Rendac is working overtime
Rendac, based in Son en Breugel, is the only company in the Netherlands that collects and processes animal carcasses. The outbreak of the bluetongue virus presents the rendering company with a major logistical challenge. Many more dead animals have to be collected than normal.
Capacity has been increased where possible: in terms of trucks and personnel. Dead animals are also collected on Saturdays and even on Sundays. “We ask a lot of our people,” agrees director Sjors Beerendonk.
Rendac is obliged to collect the carcasses on the next working day after the notification. That has not always been successful in recent weeks. Last week the company reported that dead animals would occasionally be picked up a day later. That is no longer the case, says Beerendonk. “The bad news is that the supply of dead animals is still increasing.” According to Rendac, there are no problems in terms of processing, because sheep are relatively small animals.
Will there be a vaccine against bluetongue?
Agriculture Minister Piet Adema called the situation for the sheep sector ‘disastrous’ last week after a consultation with EU colleagues. Together with Germany and Belgium, he is encouraging the pharmaceutical sector to develop a vaccine against bluetongue. According to NSFO director Everts, there is no doubt that the vaccine is necessary. “The virus will 100 percent certainly return next spring. During the previous outbreak in 2006, it also took three years to get the outbreak under control. And in 2007 it was more violent than in 2006.”
At that time, a vaccine against the virus was developed. But that vaccination is now worthless, because a different type of the virus is around than it was more than fifteen years ago. “I am counting on pharmaceutical companies to come up with a vaccine now,” says Everts. “The only question is how long it will take.”
Financial compensation for sheep farmers
A question that always arises when entrepreneurs are hit by unforeseen, extreme circumstances: should they receive financial support from the government? Agractie leader Kemp argued for this last week in a letter that he sent to the minister together with other representatives from the sector. Kemp wants sheep farmers to receive a contribution to cover the costs of the vet and the rendering company, among other things. “I expect that we will be able to discuss this with the minister next week.”
NSFO director Everts would also find some form of compensation justifiable. “We have calculated that the damage will amount to 10 million euros. That damage ends up at the hands of a still relatively small group of entrepreneurs. These are not rich people with large companies, that is not how the sheep sector works. And they are affected by something for which they cannot be insured and for which there is no vaccine.”
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