Government plan to eradicate bovine tuberculosis retains culling option

The government has set out plans for the next stage of its strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (bTB), which will include field trials of a cattle vaccine, plans to vaccinate more badgers against the disease and improved testing to intercept bTB at earlier stages.

Following a globally significant breakthrough by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) the Government has said it will accelerate the work towards deployment of the cattle vaccine within the next five years. The commitment is part of the government’s response to an independent review of its 25 year bTB strategy

More than 30,000 cattle are slaughtered each year due to infection from bTB, which would make a cattle vaccination a powerful tool in the battle against the disease following the necessary testing and approvals to ensure its safety and efficacy.

Independent scientific analysis has shown that badger culling has resulted in significant reductions in the spread of the disease to cattle with disease incidence coming down significantly in the two areas analysed. NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts said that whilst giving a vaccination to badgers may have a role to play in areas where bTB hasn’t taken hold, it is important to note vaccination has never been demonstrated to reduce the disease with the same efficacy as culling, nor has it ever cured an infected badger.

The report acknowledges the need to retain intensive culling in a targeted way where the epidemiological evidence requires it. Roberts added that the NFU believes any move away from badger culling should only be made with the backing of sufficient scientific evidence, and that in areas where TB in badgers is endemic, we must retain culling as a vital tool enabling industry to get on top of the disease quickly and reduce further transmission.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice said in the badger cull has led to a significant reduction in the disease as demonstrated by recent academic research and past studies, but they do not want to continue the cull of this protected species indefinitely: “once the weight of disease in wildlife has been addressed, we will accelerate other elements of our strategy including improved diagnostics and cattle vaccination to sustain the downward trajectory of the disease.”

UK Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss prasied the research by APHA for enabling the first step of the field trials required to license the cattle vaccine and test it. She said: “Whilst there is no single way to combat this damaging and complex disease, cattle vaccination will be a new tool for our multi-pronged approach to tackle it and importantly prevent it, providing vital support to our farming communities.

The full Government response has been published online and is available to read here.

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