Badger Trust gives cautious welcome to cattle vaccine and testing field trials in fight against bTB

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

APHA announcement seen as progress yet another 140,000 badgers still slated to be killed under cull licences due to run to 2025

Badger Trust today gave a cautious welcome to the announcement of ‘world first clinical field trials’ of a cattle vaccine and skin test which could mark a sea change in how bovine tuberculosis (bTB), a respiratory disease in cattle, is tackled. Currently, lethal control of badgers via culling is the primary control method in England, resulting in the deaths of over 140,000 badgers since the current cull began in 2013. In Wales, a ‘Test, Vaccinate, Remove’ (TVR) approach is used as one of the tools to fight the disease, with much smaller numbers of badgers involved, but which still kills healthy or vaccinated badgers.

The Animal and Plant Health Authority (APHA), an executive agency of the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra), and which also works on behalf of the Scottish and Welsh Governments, has announced field trials for a new cattle vaccine and a new skin test for bTB. The BCG vaccine – so-called as it is based on the bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine which was originally developed for human TB – has been shown to protect cattle against the bovine version of the disease. The current SICCT test (Single Intradermal Comparative Cervical Tuberculin test), is believed to leave between 20% to 50% of diseased animals undetected in herds and could be replaced by the new DIVA skin test (Detecting Infected among Vaccinated Animal), which is expected to be more sensitive to infection vs vaccination and give much more robust results. APHA announced trials would start at a farm in Hertfordshire, rolling out further in England and Wales. It stated a working cattle vaccine could be deployed by 2025 if Phase 1 – testing the BCG and DIVA separately – and then Phase 2 – testing them together – completed successfully.

Dawn Varley, Acting CEO at Badger Trust, said: 'Whilst we welcome the pilot and talk of a hoped-for roll out by 2025, this news is too little, too late for the badgers already lost to years of misguided culling. With 140,000 badgers killed since 2013, and with culling set to continue to 2025 as confirmed by the Government earlier this year, we estimate another 140,000 badgers are still to be shot to control what is primarily a cattle spread disease. That’s 280,000 badgers out of an estimated population of 485,000 – a horrific figure, and one that puts the viability of local populations at risk.'

She continued:

‘We've been calling for serious investment in a cattle vaccine for over 10 years. bTB is a cattle disease, spread by cattle to cattle, and primarily through cattle movements from farm to farm. It's only by addressing the disease in cattle that the battle will be won.
Investment in beating bTB has always focused disproportionately on badgers, and it's an outrage that the Government is only now switching its attention to the right animal.

If Covid has taught us anything it's that with the right will and investment, vaccine development, testing, approval and roll-out can be devilishly fast. And that level of commitment is needed here – for the farmers affected by this terrible disease, the 50,000 cattle who are slaughtered early each year due to infection, and for the badgers who continue to be scapegoated and pay the ultimate price for a failed policy which has achieved little. Let's get to full deployment within two years and stop any further issuing of badger cull licences now.'