A cattle vaccine against bovine tuberculosis is unlikely to be commercially available for a decade, says Brussels.

The revelation comes in a letter from European health commissioner Tonio Borg to DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson.

“Vaccination against bTB is explicitly forbidden in the EU legislation on disease control and implicitly also in intra-Union trade legislation,” the letter says.

It continues: “The main reason for the current vaccination ban is due to the possibility that vaccinated animals are not fully protected against bTB infection.”

Vaccinated animals may become infected if exposed to the disease agent and then they cannot be distinguished from the non-infected vaccinated animals, says the letter.

“This would jeopardise current bTB control and eradication policy.”

The letter acknowledges that the UK has “invested considerable resources” to develop a candidate vaccine accompanied with diagnostic tests that would be compatible with the vaccine.

A so-called DIVA test would be able to differentiate infected from vaccinated animals.

The letter says further studies are needed on the reliability and feasibility of cattle vaccine accompanied by the use of such a DIVA test.

A “tentative timeline” accompanying the letter suggests it could take until 2023 for such a test to be fully developed and assessed – and for EU rules to be changed to allow vaccination.

“I would like to underline that under the current circumstances the timeline provided is to be considered as purely indicative,” writes Mr Borg.

More on this topic

For more on bovine TB see our special report