Badger vaccination costings criticised

A scientist’s claim that vaccinating badgers is a more cost-effective way to cut bovine TB than culling, has been criticised by the NFU and DEFRA.

Senior research fellow at the Institute of Zoology in London, Rosie Woodroffe, told a conference on TB vaccination that the costs of culling were higher than vaccinating badgers.

“Badger vaccination does not require the same level of policing than culling. It actually means that badger vaccination is cheaper,” said Dr Woodroffe.

Referring to the government’s own cost benefit analysis, published in 2011, the annual cost of free shooting is estimated at £300/sq km; free shooting and cage trapping £1,000/sq km and badger vaccination is £2,307/sq km.

However, the annual cost of policing is estimated at £500,000 over 350/sq km – equivalent to £1,429/sq km.

When added together, the estimates for cage trapping and free shooting are £2,429/sq km, which is £122/sq km higher than vaccinating badgers alone, she claimed.

Speaking after her presentation, Dr Woodroffe said farmers felt “incredibly frustrated” that policing and security costs for badger culling were high, but she added it would be “difficult to get away from this” given the controversy of the policy.

“We can assume that there would never be policing costs for badger vaccination, but there will always be people who disagree with culling,” she said.

But her calculations were criticised by the NFU.

“We should not confuse the costs of the badger cull with the costs of policing,” an NFU spokesman said. “The cull is being paid for and carried out by companies in areas where TB is persistent and high, to prevent a terrible disease. Policing costs are associated with the threat of illegal action by anti-cull activists and they are a matter for government,” the spokesman added.

“To say that badger vaccination is cheaper than culling is also irrelevant. Badger vaccination is an ineffective tool for dealing with this disease in areas where it is endemic. There is no scientific evidence that vaccination of badgers reduces TB in cattle so any cost/benefit analysis is inherently flawed,” he said.

A DEFRA spokesman continued the argument against Dr Woodroffe’s claims.

“We know there are practical difficulties with vaccination because animals have to be trapped first and the process repeated for several years,” the spokesman said.

“Research does show that culling will reduce TB infection more quickly than vaccination in areas with high levels of disease. We are committed to developing vaccines for cattle and badgers and are investing £11.7m on research over the next three years.”

The spokesman also highlighted cost data for a badger vaccination trial in Wales. It showed the Welsh government’s badger vaccination project cost more than £3,000/sq km.

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