Wildlife groups have ramped up pressure on Defra Secretary Michael Gove to roll out badger vaccination against bovine TB.
In a letter outlining a number of recommendations following a recent vaccination symposium, the Badger Trust said the Government was failing to give sufficient support to badger vaccination as part of its TB eradication strategy and that by allowing farmers and landowners to make the decision to vaccinate or cull, the need to vaccinate over large continuous areas was ‘hindered’.
The Government should instead lift restrictions on badger vaccination in high-risk TB areas and remove funding restrictions by which smaller badger vaccination groups have to pay 50 per cent of equipment and training costs.
Badger Trust chief executive Dominic Dyer said: “If the Government takes prompt action in each of these areas, we are confident that an increasing number of farmers and landowners will take up badger vaccinations as a viable option for reducing the spread of bovine TB in badgers.”
An NFU spokesman said while vaccination had a role to play, vaccination alone would not eradicate bTB.
He said: "It is essential that vaccination is properly co-ordinated, targeted at the edge of endemic areas, and treats a sufficiently large proportion of badgers over a large enough area to have a significant impact on reducing the spread of bTB.
"But vaccination will not work in areas where the disease is endemic because it will not cure a sick animal and infected badgers will continue to spread the disease. We will only get rid of this disease by using every available option.”
Sir Charles Godfray, who headed up the review of the Government’s 25-year strategy and published his report in November last year, noted there had never been a large-scale trial of the impact of badger vaccination on disease risk in cattle comparable to the randomised badger culling trial (1998-2005), so the programme’s efficacy was not clear.
Sir Charles added: “Vaccination provides some, but not perfect, protection against infection but does not cure an existing infection and we do not know the duration of immunity.”
Defra said badgers were a ‘reservoir of TB’ for cattle and other animals in large regions of the West of England and the Midlands, and that vaccination would not stop infected badgers continuing to spread the disease.
The Godfray Review also noted that stopping badger culling without the introduction of other measures would mean that an important source of transmission to cattle would not be addressed, it added.
A spokesperson said: “Bovine TB remains one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK, causing devastation for hard-working farmers and rural communities.
“That is why we are pursuing a range of interventions to eradicate the disease by 2038, including tighter cattle movement controls, and more regular cattle testing, as well as badger culling and vaccination in areas where badgers play a role in the diseases.”