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Farmers question reliability of vaccine to curb bovine TB ahead of badger cull

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 09, 2012

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Farmers have dismissed claims that a vaccine against bovine TB could be rolled out within months, negating any need to cull badgers to stop the disease.

They say the claims of a major breakthrough in combating bovine TB are not realistic in time-scale – and that a vaccine is far from totally reliable.

While a test to differentiate between beef from infected cattle and cattle that have been vaccinated is being developed, it may take a very long time to be accepted throughout the EU, making exports of vaccinated beef impossible.

With controversial culls of badgers likely to begin within a few weeks in two TB hotspot areas in the South West, the development of the differentiation test is “absolutely critical” according to the Government’s chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens.

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“We believe we have one that can be practically applied, but in terms of getting international recognition for it, it is months and possibly years away,” he said.

The differentiation test, and TB vaccine for use in cattle, would have to be validated and EU law changed before beef from vaccinated cattle was available for consumption in Europe. In excess of £34 million has already been spent on research, and a further £15 million is earmarked for development of vaccines for cattle and badgers over the next four years. The process of approving any test to differentiate TB-infected from vaccinated cows is likely to take many years, said the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).

Andrew Butler, the NFU acting regional director in the South West, said the EU would want assurances that the vaccine and the test were safe and effective. He said: “During this time the problem of TB will get worse, with more badgers and cattle getting the disease.

“Even if it were eventually approved, the cattle vaccine is not 100% effective – so there will be a significant percentage of cattle which are not immune. As it’s against the law to use the vaccine in the field in Europe there is no reliable data, but small-scale trials in South America showed it was only between 56 and 68% effective in cattle – and if badgers are still infected then the disease will continue to spread.”

Mr Butler stressed the NFU continued to support the Government’s science-led TB eradication policy, which includes badger controls, as well as tighter cattle controls and badger vaccination, because at this stage it was the only way forward.

He added: “Evidence from other countries shows us that vaccination alone does not work while there is a third party host harbouring the disease, and diseased animals remain in the wild unchecked.”

Licences have been granted for pilot culls over six-week periods in West Somerset and around Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, when 70% of badgers in those areas will be shot by trained riflemen.

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  • Charlespk  |  October 09 2012, 1:20PM

    That's 'veterinary' of 30 years experience.

  • Charlespk  |  October 09 2012, 1:18PM

    When are you going to start listening!!!?? From 2009. by Dr Ueli Zellweger MRCVS GST TVL Somerset. . A tertiary of 30 years experience as a country vet for cattle. Cond. "Not so easy to treat are chronic infections. Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) is in 99% of all cases a very chronic disease, mainly because of the extremely slow multiplying of these bacteria. Apart from bTB there are quite a number of other strains causing Tuberculosis like the human strain, the strain causing leprosy, the avian strain, Mycobacterium paratuberculosis ( Johns disease ) and others which are even harmless. There are a lot of vaccines against all kind of infections on the market. They normally give quite reliable results if administered correctly and in healthy animals (and humans). For Tuberculosis the common vaccine is the BCG which was found some 80 years ago and has been used to vaccinate healthy babies mainly. BCG does not prevent an infection like all other vaccines; it just keeps it from becoming generalized, thus reducing the risk that the bacteria are swept into various other organs followed by massive excretion (coughing, urine, faeces, milk etc). There is scientific evidence that the efficiency of BCG is not more than 50 % and in a lot of countries it is therefore not used any longer. Any animal, group or herd of with bTB is a focus and as long as such a focus is not eliminated it is a high risk for further infections. It is outrageous that these aspects are widely ignored by DEFRA for years now with absolutely no end in sight. In 2008 over 40,000 head of cattle reacting to bTB were slaughtered (10 % annual increase to be expected) and nobody knows how many 10,000s of badgers and their setts are infected. Thus the infection within this most relevant wildlife reservoir is permanently growing including all its risks of infecting further cattle, other farm animals, pets and humans. Vaccinating badgers cannot be the solution for there are locally far too many badgers and setts infected and vaccinating cattle with BCG is in my view absolutely contraindicated for the only way of diagnosing bTB in cattle will be seriously compromised. DEFRA thinks to manage to develop a DIVA test thus being able to differentiate between a skin reaction caused by bTB and the one caused by BCG. It is unclear if such a test ever will reach permission or Europeanwide approbation; however there is a high risk that some countries will decide at some stage that they are not interested in any English beef products any longer when it cannot be guaranteed that there is no bTB. The routine bTB skin test alone in many cases is unreliable enough ( inconclusive or even false negative results ) and the Gamma Interferon bloodtest - apart from being expensive - is quite often hampered by some other influences. There definitely is no need of another uncertainty in this whole issue. It is horror for me to see how things are going the wrong way and every month some hundred more farms are starting suffering dramatically. It is not 5 minutes before noon to rethink this whole approach by DEFRA - politically steered as it is - NO it is half past noon and even with a quick U turn the future of battling bTB looks bleak." . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dr U Zellweger Somerset

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  • Clued-Up  |  October 09 2012, 10:34AM

    The government's chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said: "We believe we have [a cattle vaccine] that can be practically applied [NOW], but in terms of getting international recognition for it, it is MONTHS and possibly years away". So a determined effort now by the government to present the case for international recognition of the vaccine could achieve success within months. Even if the recognition case takes longer, it's highly likely international recognition of the vaccine will happen BEFORE the cull is due to be completed. In reality, it's likely the cull programme will be stopped early anyway (hopefully before many badgers are killed) - the opposition to it is massive, building and widespread amongst all sections of the public. Farmers' support for the cull was always ambivalent and seems to be dwindling fast. Let's kill the cull before it does any more damage. Let's press the government to get behind the push for international recognition of the cattle vaccine. And let's focus interim bTB activity on completely banning the movement of cattle from bTB areas into clean areas and on better biosecurity on the small minority of bTB affected farms.

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