DEFRA wants farmers’ help in TB badger vaccine plan

Farmers will be asked to help catch and inject badgers as DEFRA steps up its fight against bovine tuberculosis.

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DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn told Farmers Weekly that the success of a government project to test an injectable vaccine rested with farmers.

Mr Benn announced that six areas of up to 100sq km would be chosen for the project. All of the areas will be sited within known TB hotspots.

Vaccination is expected to start in summer 2010 once the vaccine itself is licenced. But training of farmers, vets, contractors and wildlife experts, to handle and inject the badgers will begin this year.

How many recruits will be needed and a cost for the five-year project have not yet been worked out, Mr Benn said.

“Developing an effective vaccine for bovine TB is only half the challenge,” he added.

The project will focus on ease of use in the field, securing local engagement in the vaccination campaign, developing practical know-how and creation of a skills base. The impact on herd breakdowns will also be monitored, however, Mr Benn said.

“It will be hard work but we are doing something to tackle the disease and giving hope to those who live with this disease.”

Mr Benn acknowledged his comments at the NFU conference in 2009 that an injectable vaccine was impractical for widespread use.

“On a wide scale, yes, I stand by that. But the demonstration project is a vital step in the development of an oral vaccine which will be suited for large-scale treatment.”

The oral vaccine is expected to be available from 2014.

Nicky Paull, British Veterinary Association president, said that DEFRA would have to work harder at building relationships with farmers to make the project work.

“Trapping and treating badgers will be difficult. It is a lot of effort and without the input of farmers it won’t work,” said Mrs Paull.

“The vaccine itself is going to be under huge and intense pressure from sick animals that slip through the net. In some cases the vaccine may break down. But we have to give this a go,” she said.

“Anything is better than doing nothing. The disease is now so out of hand it is desperate for farmers and it has become depressing for vets who cannot make an impression on the disease.”