Trials to vaccinate cattle against bovine TB are set to get underway in England and Wales.
Defra said the ‘major breakthrough’ by Government scientists could see the vaccine being rolled out by 2025, as badger culling is gradually ‘phased out’.
Cattle vaccination was highlighted as a key element of Defra’s 25 year bTB strategy, alongside badger culling, badger vaccination and improved testing and cattle movement controls.
However, last year the Government signalled its intention phase out badger culling in England in favour of vaccination – a move criticised by farmers and the unions.
Defra Secretary George Eustice said: “Bovine TB is a slow-moving and insidious disease which can cause considerable trauma for farmers as they suffer the loss of highly prized animals and valued herds.
“This scientific breakthrough is a major step forwards in our battle to see the disease eradicated from this country.
“As wider preventative measures like cattle vaccines are introduced, we will accelerate other elements of our strategy and start to phase out badger culling, as no one wants to continue the cull of a protected species indefinitely.”
Development of a deployable cattle BTB vaccine was a top priority outlined in the Government’s response to an independent review of its 25 year strategy, led by Professor Sir Charles Godfray.
The response to the Godfray Review set out plans to phase out intensive culling in the next few years, and outlined the need for a ’combined approach’ which includes badger and cattle vaccination to eradicate the disease by 2038.
NFU president Minette Batters welcomed the news but reinforced the need to use a range of measures to get on top of the disease.
“With bTB continuing to devastate farms across the country, this approval for field trials for cattle vaccination will be welcome news for many farmers," she said.
"We eagerly await the outcome of these trials to further understand the potential role of cattle vaccination as part of a complete bTB eradication strategy.
“As we wait for this research to develop, the NFU continues to support a comprehensive eradication strategy and we must use every option available to us at this time to tackle the disease.”
UK Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said: “The Animal Plant and Health Agency’s ground-breaking research has been pivotal in developing this potential vaccine.”
“Whilst there is no single way to combat this damaging and complex disease, cattle vaccination is a potential new tool for our multi-pronged approach to tackle it and importantly prevent it, providing vital support to our farming communities.
“Bovine TB presents a global challenge and the UK has harnessed its world-leading science to develop potential solutions such as vaccination and new diagnostic tests that could also be valuable to other countries.”
British Veterinary Association junior vice-president James Russell described the cattle vaccine, which scientists have been researching for 20 years, as a ‘game changer’.
“These field trials mark the culmination of years of ground-breaking research and efforts by the veterinary scientific community to expand the range of tools available to vets and farmers to tackle bovine tuberculosis,” he added.
More than 40,000 cattle are slaughtered each year due to infection from bTB.
The latest statistics on bTB in England show the overall number of new herd incidents of the disease was down by 9 per cent in the last year (to Nov 2019), a 10 per cent reduction in the number of herds not officially free of the disease and a 4 per cent reduction in the total number of animals slaughtered due to the disease.