A badger cull is still vital in the bid to curb bovine tuberculosis as a workable cattle vaccine remains years away, the NFU said.

As Farmers Weekly exclusively reported last week, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) has developed a Differentiating Infected from Vaccinated Animals (DIVA) test which will be able to help differentiate between a vaccinated cow and a cow that has TB.

The DIVA test report has been submitted to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate since January and is still being evaluated.

If the report is successfully received, it could lead to changes in EU legislation, which prohibit the vaccination of cattle against TB.

Cattle vaccination against TB is not allowed in EU countries as the BCG vaccination interferes with the tuberculin skin test, which is recognised as the primary diagnostic test for TB in cattle.

Current vaccines make healthy cows appear infected, which blocks their overseas trade or sale.

A number of national newspapers hailed the DIVA test as a “breakthrough” and suggested it could remove the need to cull badgers.

However, NFU president Peter Kendall said claims of a major breakthrough were unrealistic at this stage.

“What concerns me most is that after today there could be more confusion about what is already a highly complex situation,” said Mr Kendall.

“We need a package of measures to tackle TB and yes, cattle vaccine must be one of them. But as DEFRA’s chief vet Nigel Gibbens said, cattle vaccine, and the tests and regulations needed to put it in place across Europe, ‘may take years’. In the meantime, the spread of TB is doubling every nine years.”

“We need a package of measures to tackle TB and yes, cattle vaccine must be one of them. But as DEFRA’s chief vet Nigel Gibbens said, cattle vaccine, and the tests and regulations needed to put it in place across Europe, ‘may take years’. In the meantime, the spread of TB is doubling every nine years.”
Peter Kendall, NFU president

Mr Kendall added that TB was one of the main problems facing our dairy and beef farmers and that all scientific reports to date had indicated that no single measure would combat bovine TB.

“While no-one wants to cull badgers this policy does have to include tackling TB in badgers because badger vaccination alone will not be enough; it will not cure a badger that already has TB,” he said.

“No other country in the world has ever got on top of TB without also tackling the disease in its wildlife carriers and breaking the cycle of reinfection.

“This TB eradication package also includes strict biosecurity on farms, tight cattle movement controls, a tough cattle TB testing regime and a cull policy that sees all cattle that test positive for TB being slaughtered. This meant losing more than 34,000 cattle across Great Britain last year alone to this disease.”

Mr Kendall said that a cattle vaccination could only be part of the solution and he pointed out that studies had shown that it was not 100% effective in tackling bovine TB on its own.

“Only by using all of the available tools in the box will we begin to get on top of this terrible disease,” he added.

Two pilots badger culls are expected to begin within days after Natural England granted culling licences to allow trained marksmen to cull 70% of badgers in west Somerset and west Gloucestershire over six-week periods every four years.

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