A vaccine to halt the march of bovine TB through West Country cattle herds will not be available until 2023 at the earliest.
Critics of the Government’s plan to cull badgers to tackle bovine TB have long demanded vaccination be deployed instead.
And, while officials in Brussels have indicated there is the prospect of lifting an EU ban on a cattle vaccine, they suggest it will not happen within the next ten years.
Cornwall MP George Eustice, who serves on the environment select committee of MPs, said his cross-party group would investigate the “totally unacceptable” delay.
The disease leads to 25,000 sick cattle being slaughtered a year, principally in the rural South West where tuberculosis in cattle is rife, leaving farmers facing misery and hardship and the taxpayer having to pay compensation heading towards £1 billion.
More than 17,000 cattle were slaughtered in the West up to October 31 last year, compared to 19,400 in the entire year before.
However, figures released earlier this month by Defra, show a massive rise in the number of herds under movement restrictions, preventing slaughter or restocking.
Between October 2011 and October 2012 In the greater West Country, from Cornwall up to Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, 31,774 herds were restricted, a 17 per cent rise from the prior 12-month period. Of the areas within the region, Avon saw a huge 44 per cent increase to 1,596. Cornwall and Devon have the most herds under restriction, 5,088 and 10,235 respectively, reflecting increases of 8.5 per cent and 19 per cent.
In the Commons yesterday, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg had agreed a “provisional time-table” for “developing a workable cattle vaccine”.
He said the commissioner “acknowledges the UK’s leading role in pressing forward on a cattle vaccine and for the first time recognises that we are on course to deploy a vaccine”.
He added: “The legal and scientific process could take up to ten years. In the meantime, we will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to check the progress of this terrible disease.”
EU legislation prohibits cattle vaccines such as BCG, chiefly because of problems in distinguishing sick livestock from healthy cattle.
In a letter to Mr Paterson, Mr Borg outlined a five-stage process – including reaching a scientific consensus, devising new EU rules and testing the legislation – to ensure the vaccine and test is effective and safe.
Mr Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, said: “In the short term, we do need to press ahead with pilot culls.
“However, it is totally unacceptable for the licensing of such a vaccine in the EU to take so long and this is an area that the Efra Select Committee of which I am part will be investigating urgently.”