'Act or watch TB rampage through the countryside'
Failing to take new steps to tackle the increase in bovine TB would be "unwise", Defra's chief scientific adviser said yesterday.
As pilot culls continue in Somerset and Gloucestershire in the face of a vociferous and well-organised protest, Professor Ian Boyd has told the Western Morning News there is a compelling need for action.
"We have continually increasing TB in this country and allowing it to continue like that is, I would say, unwise," he said. "Therefore we need to be thinking about what we can do to reduce the rate of increase."
Saying that there were "relatively few things available to us, beyond what we already do", he added: "We already have a very intensive cattle testing programme and removal of infected cattle, but we also know that badgers are involved in the infection cycle and we need to do something about that – we can not ignore it.
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"The tools we have available to us for dealing with that are really quite limited – either injectable vaccines or culling, or both.
"What we are doing in the eradication strategy is developing an approach using both of those methods and also developing new methods for cattle vaccines and potentially oral vaccines for badgers.
"That's the overall approach, but the underlying issue is, we can not, in my view, allow TB to continually go out of control."
Prof Boyd said it had been made "absolutely clear" that culling would not eradicate the disease but was "part of a suite of measures" to bring it under control.
Campaigners believe vaccination for both cattle and badgers is the only realistic long-term solution. Prof Boyd said a cattle vaccine could be trialled in "two to three years" and be operationally available in a decade.
He said relying on an oral vaccine for badgers, which was not yet on the horizon, was "high risk".
"It is increasing at 9% per annum, despite the fact that we are putting in as much effort into controlling it in cattle as we can reasonably do so," Prof Boyd added. "It will continue to increase like that, it will continue to spread over a wider area, it may well get into other livestock, not just cattle, and we have already seen that to some extent.
"It may well get into other wildlife. We know it is in deer, although we don't think it is endemic. It is probably present in other wildlife species and will probably get into domestic pets as well and there is some evidence of it increasing in cats, for example.
"With that trajectory, or direction of travel, the long-term prognosis, unless we do something different to what we are doing now, is not good.
"It means we would have TB throughout the countryside, in many different wildlife species, and many different livestock species."