July 13, 2021


UK trials of cattle vaccine may lead to potential end of badger culling



Trials of a cattle vaccine and a new skin test for bovine tuberculosis (bTB) have started in the United Kingdom, a development that could bring an end to the controversial culling of badgers.


The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) is carrying out field trials at a Hertfordshire farm, part of a shift in a government strategy to phase out badger culling and roll out a vaccine by 2025.


Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "Bovine TB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that the UK faces today.


"The badger cull has led to a significant reduction in the disease but no one wants to continue the cull of a protected species indefinitely.


"That is why we are now building on this progress by accelerating other elements of our strategy, including cattle vaccination and improved testing so that we can eradicate this insidious disease and start to phase out badger culling as soon as possible."


Bovine TB costs taxpayers around £100 million (US$139 million) a year, with more than 36,000 cattle slaughtered last year to control the disease which mainly affects their respiratory system.


A joint statement from the chief veterinary officers from England, Scotland and Wales said the trials were an "important step forward".


"If successful, the world-leading project could lead to the first ever deployment of a cattle bTB vaccine and Diva skin test, and will be instrumental in turning the tide against this terrible disease which impacts many countries around the world", they added.


Badgers, a protected species in the UK, are capable of transmitting the disease to livestock although wildlife campaigners say they are not the primary cause of the spread in cattle.


Dawn Varley, acting CEO at Badger Trust, said: "We've been calling for serious investment in a cattle vaccine for over 10 years, as bTB is a cattle disease spread by cattle to cattle and primarily through cattle movements from farm to farm, and so it's only by addressing the disease in cattle that the battle will be won."


The vaccine has already been tested in countries including New Zealand.


However, the skin test will enable vets to identify which cattle have been vaccinated and which are infected with the disease, which was not previously possible.


The first phase of trials will determine the safety and accuracy of the Diva skin test, starting with the Hertfordshire farm and then expanding to more farms in England and Wales.


If successful, phase two will see both the vaccine and skin test trialed together to gather evidence to license the products for use in the UK.


- The i Paper