Farmers urged to beware of TB vaccination projects

Farmers must think very carefully before signing up to TB vaccination projects, according to the National Beef Association (NBA) TB Committee, explaining that emerging trends and practical situations must be considered as part of a holistic approach to TB risk management.

“While vaccination remains a useful tool in the box, it should only be used to create cordon sanitaires in areas, before the disease reaches that area,” explains Bill Harper, NBA TB Committee chairman.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that demonstrates that vaccinating TB infected badgers will have any positive benefit,” he adds. “Therefore, there will be no improvement in ether badger or cattle TB levels, in the HRA (High Risk Area) where badgers will be carrying a level of disease, if a vaccination project takes place.”

Additionally, badger trapping projects have been shown to only catch between 30-40% of the population, with 30 culling areas trapping just half of the 70% badger population. The remaining badgers, not entering the traps, were dispatched by rifle. Even in an area with no TB, the level of cover with just 35% of the population vaccinated, would be questionable.

“There is also the mute-point of the cost of trapping and vaccinating,” adds Mr Harper. “There have been suggestions that some wildlife trusts would get involved but there is no clear commitment over the necessary minimum four years.”

Evidence has also emerged recently, from a Royal Agricultural University (RAU) group of experts, suggesting that the effectiveness of a cull is very dependent on how well it is implemented. The NBA has been working with a farmer who has had an outbreak of TB on his Devon farm in the last week, and insists it is crucial to ascertain the effectiveness of the local cull.

“While we have of course been offering support to the farmer during this difficult time, there are key questions we need to ask,” explains Mr Harper. “Firstly, what is the spoligotype of the TB found? Does it match with the spoligotypes found where the purchased cattle came from? Secondly how effective was the local cull?”

Mr Harper adds: “The analysis by RAU begs the question as to how well the cull was done in this particular farmer’s area. These are the issues that will be addressed and the NBA is calling for a national conference to bring out all the more recently emerging details and trends, so that we can move quickly to learn from practical situations and amend the applications to get the best results.”