France to vaccinate livestock following bluetongue outbreak

France is preparing a widespread vaccination campaign for livestock following an outbreak of bluetongue disease on a farm in the centre of the country, the government said on Friday.

France, the European Union's biggest agricultural producer, had been declared free of bluetongue on its mainland since 2012 and the return of the viral disease could lead to restrictions of live animal exports in another setback for livestock farmers, who have been protesting about falling meat and dairy prices.

The disease, which affects ruminants but not humans, was detected in the Allier administrative department in central France, part of a major cattle region, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll told reporters.

Tests conducted so far on a suspected farm had shown 27 positive results among cattle and six among sheep, while another 14 ruminants had tested positive in a two kilometre zone around the farm.

The authorities are introducing a wider 150 km restriction zone around the farm, with limits on livestock movements, and have ordered 1.3 million doses of a vaccine to tackle the disease.

The origin of the outbreak was unclear because it involved the serotype 8 that had not been reported for several years in herds anywhere in the world, officials said, pointing to the possibility the strain may have gone undetected among wild animals.

Bluetongue has been a recurring disease in parts of southern Europe and swept through northern Europe in 2007-2008 in a wave that led to mass vaccination of ruminants.

The French government will consult health experts and livestock farming representatives next week in order to decide on the scope of vaccination programme and its funding, Le Foll said.