By John Ensor • 18 September 2023 • 8:53
Stock image of herd of cows.
Credit: Walter Kopplinger/Shutterstock.com
A disease that affects cattle is threatening the cattle industry in Spain, what is ‘cow covid’ and how safe is it to eat meat?
In November 2022, Spain witnessed the emergence of the Epizootic Haemorrhagic Disease (EHD), commonly referred to as the ‘cow covid’. This outbreak, initially detected in the south-west of the peninsula, has since spread, posing a significant challenge to the country’s livestock sector, writes 20 Minutos.
EHD, a viral disease affecting both domestic and wild ruminants, is caused by an orbivirus. This virus is closely related to the one causing Bluetongue in sheep and other ruminants. Unlike many diseases, EHD isn’t spread by mosquitoes but by Culicoides, insects from the Diptera group.
Historically, EHD was prevalent in the Americas. However, due to factors like global animal movement and climate change, its reach has expanded. For years, North Africa has been battling EHD, but its recent appearance in Spain is alarming. The country has seen thousands of transmissions, leading to the death or culling of hundreds of animals.
Primarily, cattle are the most affected. They can exhibit clinical symptoms for roughly two weeks. While sheep can get infected, they show fewer disease symptoms. Goats, on the other hand, are highly susceptible. Interestingly, EHD is also a disease of deer, impacting species like fallow deer and roe deer.
For humans, there’s some relief. EHD doesn’t impact human health or the quality of meat. However, its repercussions on the livestock industry are profound. The disease imposes mobility restrictions on cattle, making its management a complex task. This has led to significant economic implications for farmers.
With the disease spreading across the peninsula, only a few provinces remain unaffected. As of last month’s report from the Ministry of Agriculture, only Galicia, parts of Catalonia, the Canary Islands, and the Balearic Islands have no movement restrictions on cattle.
Farmers are in a tight spot. EHD’s status as a notifiable disease, as established by the European Commission in December 2020, means they must report cases. However, tensions between farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture are palpable. As cited from Salamanca 24horas, farmers claim, ‘There are more casualties than cases actually declared.’ They accuse the administration of downplaying the situation.
As yet, there is no authorised vaccine against EHD in the EU. The Ministry recommends using insecticides and repellents on animals and their transport means. Additionally, controlling breeding areas with insecticides and larvicides can help curb the disease’s spread.
An EHD outbreak has severe implications. Farmers can’t move live cattle, not destined for slaughterhouses, within 150 kilometres to EHD-free zones or other EU countries.
Matilde Moro, manager of the Association of Beef Cattle Producers (Asoprovac), voiced the sector’s concerns, stating, ‘Nobody has exact data and we are all talking by hearsay, while the situation in the sector is very bad.’ She further added, ‘But information began to reach us that there is a lot of mortality, morbidity and affected animals, although this is not official data.’
Luis Planas, the Minister of Agriculture, has called for a meeting with regional authorities and the sector to address the ‘cow covid in Spain’ crisis in the coming weeks.
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Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina.
He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.
When he's not writing for EWN he enjoys gigging in a acoustic duo, looking after their four dogs, four chickens, two cats, and cycling up mountains very slowly.
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