Trials of cattle TB vaccine to start next year
With the shooting of badgers continuing at two South West locations as part of the Government's campaign to wipe out bovine TB, field trials of a cattle vaccine have been announced for next year.
The long-awaited vaccine has been developed by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), together with a vital diagnostic test to differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals.
The Government says it hopes to begin the trials, which will provide information leading to the licensing of the vaccine and international acceptance of the differentiation product as a trade test, in 2014.
But that does not mean a quick result to the ongoing horror of bovine TB, which last year alone accounted for the deaths of 28,000 cattle. The Government and the EU are on a ten-year schedule, which as well as involving EU recognition of both products will also need to include a change to EU legislation. The newly announced trials will last up to five years.
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The news was greeted warmly by farmers.
Melanie Squires, regional director of the National Farmers' Union in the South West, said: "These trials are an important step on the road to a workable cattle vaccine becoming available, which the European Commission has said is still ten years away.
"Vaccination, when available for cattle and badgers, has a key role to play in tackling this terrible disease. In the meantime it is important that we use every tool available to us, including cattle testing, movement controls, improved bio-security and the targeted control of wildlife in areas where TB is rife."
She said the current injectable badger vaccine would have little impact in areas where TB was endemic. It was logistically challenging to administer and costly, as shown by the trials in Wales where it cost £662 to vaccinate each badger last year.
Bill Harper, the Westcountry farmer who is regional TB representative of the National Beef Association, said a cattle vaccine would be a vital part of the long-term TB campaign.
Pilot culls of badgers in two TB hotspot areas – in west Somerset and around the Tewkesbury area – are two weeks into a six-week programme, in which 70% of badgers will be shot at night by supervised marksmen, a campaign roundly condemned by animal-rights activists, who have pledged to disrupt proceedings.
Mr Harper added: "The pilot culls are going well, but it would be so much better if we were allowed to do it properly without interruptions. Where the protesters have access to cull areas via public roads or footpaths they are a nuisance. And they are not helping the badgers."
The Government is remaining tight-lipped about the progress of the pilot culls. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said this week: "Vaccines are years away from being ready and we cannot afford to wait while TB gets worse."