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Getting badger cull policy right

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: November 08, 2012

Badger

Badger

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BOVINE TB is the most pressing animal health problem facing the UK today. The importance for our cattle farmers, their families and their communities cannot be overemphasised.

Last year, TB led to the slaughter of 26,000 cattle in England at a cost of almost £100m. It is estimated the cost to the taxpayer will rise to £1bn over the next decade if the disease is left unchecked.

Research shows that culling badgers can lead to reduction in the disease in cattle if it is carried out over a large enough area and for a sufficient length of time. While the Government is committed to using all possible tools to tackle the disease we believe – based on the available evidence – that culling badgers to control TB can make a significant contribution.

The NFU is co-ordinating the cull and has requested it be postponed until next summer. This is because exceptionally bad weather, the Olympics and protracted legal proceedings means we have now moved beyond the optimal time for delivering an effective cull this year.

Vaccination is another tool and one we would all like to be able to deploy more widely.

So why are we pressing ahead with a cull when there are vaccines available? Ultimately we want to be able to vaccinate both cattle and badgers, but usable and approved vaccines are several years away. There are serious practical difficulties with the injectable badger vaccine, the only vaccine available at the moment. We remain committed to investing £15.5m over the next four years to develop effective cattle and oral badger vaccines as quickly as possible.

Because the whole subject is such an emotive issue some myths have been propelled. The pop star Brian May, for example, is wrong when he says the EU has told the UK it can already vaccinate cattle against TB if it wants.

Cattle vaccination is not currently permitted in the EU. Before a vaccine can be used, we must be able to demonstrate that we have a test that can tell the difference between an animal that is infected with TB or one that has been vaccinated. We're working on this test but it is still some way off being ready to use. In order to carry out tests, we have to get permission from the EU to vaccinate cattle and then get permission from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to use a vaccine that is not yet licensed. All of this takes time, and in addition, cattle vaccination does not tackle the problem of TB in wildlife.

Others are asking why we are ignoring scientific evidence which shows that vaccination is a viable alternative to culling. Glyn Hewinson, an expert on the development of vaccines from AHVLA, has said vaccinations are not a "magic wand" to address the spread of TB. Veterinary advice is that vaccination will not be as effective as culling in quickly lowering the weight of infection in the badger population. It's also unknown how long it would take before a reduction in TB incidents in cattle would be seen.

The latest results from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial have shown that carried out over a sufficient area and for long enough proactive culling can reduce the spread of disease to cattle, with benefits remaining for years after the end of the culling period. As for the negative effects of 'perturbation' – badgers moving as the result of culling, which made the disease worse in surrounding areas – this disappeared 12 to 18 months after the culling ended.

The Government's approach therefore is to keep an eye on our cattle with routine testing and surveillance, to spend £15.5m to develop viable vaccines and to introduce controlled culling as part of a science-led programme of badger control, to pilot culling in two areas and to get the delivery of that policy right.

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  • 2ladybugs  |  November 09 2012, 3:03PM

    @eyeopener 2.13 re the PCR test, yep unreliable to say in the least. re the sheep. If an animal is showing signs of illness a vet will be called and it will be through them that the disease should be picked up. The visible signs are not easy to see in sheep. The signs are almost impossible to see at slaughter

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  • eyeopener  |  November 09 2012, 2:38PM

    @2ladybugs "you will have to learn that not all information is for public viewing." Exactly how are farmers meant to know that a strain of disease in an animal has become notifiable? This is hardly the stuff of GCHQ and national security. "you spelled writen wrong" Ps. Had you added (sic) after 'writen' you would have got it right? :)))

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  • eyeopener  |  November 09 2012, 2:13PM

    Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs BOVINE TB AND THE USE OF PCR: SUMMARY OF 12 JULY MEETING Expert Panel: Professor Bob Watson (Defra CSA – Chair); Professor Cecil McMurray (Chair Diagnostics Programme Advisory Group (DPAG) & ex-Chief Scientist DARDNI – vice-Chair); & Professor Mike Barer (University of Leicester). Attendees: Staff were present from Defra, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA), The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), the University of Warwick, the University of Surrey, and Enigma Diagnostics Limited SUMMARY "PCR was not a test that could be usefully used for detecting TB in badgers based on the current state of knowledge, particularly in the field."

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  • 2ladybugs  |  November 09 2012, 2:09PM

    @eyeopener....you will have to learn that not all information is for public viewing. Bovine TB in sheep is tested for in the same way as for cattle and any found positive are culled out of the flock. ps re. sic. If you think I am writing every 'b' word you wrote you can think again. pps you spelled writen wrong :)) Now I am going to see if I can get back into the site, re: bTB, that has been blocked for the last 2 days.

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  • eyeopener  |  November 09 2012, 1:46PM

    @2ladybugs If your going to add (sic) you need to type exactly what was writen. I said "Have you got a link (URL) to your scource please." A URL is a 'The Uniform Resource Locator and was was created in 1994 by Tim Berners-Lee When you type an internet address into a browser such as http://tinyurl.com/11w0 THAT is a URL. You said "there are various strains of TB in sheep but this latest one is a notifiable disease." and I asked for the internet link to the source from which you gathered that information. As you said: "I can't go into it too much on here but Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) in sheep is a difficult problem." that URL or internet link to your source would have saved you the trouble of going "into it too much on here". As I said earlier "I have just been to the Defra website to explore notfiable diseases in respect of animal health, and there is no requirement to test for bovine TB in sheep, although there is for goats and only if on the same farm as an infected herd of cattle."

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  • 2ladybugs  |  November 09 2012, 1:32PM

    Latest re cull: DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson has revealed he is exploring the possibility of using PCR tests to identify infected badger setts as part of a future badger culling strategy.

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  • 2ladybugs  |  November 09 2012, 1:22PM

    @eyeopener.....I can't go into it too much on here but Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) in sheep is a difficult problem. Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is the disease in cattle that results from infection with M. bovis bacteria, and is one of the most complex animal health problems currently facing the farming industry in Great Britain. It is a notifiable disease and suspicion of the disease must be reported to your local Animal Health office

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  • 2ladybugs  |  November 09 2012, 1:16PM

    @eyeopener ......a URL scource(sic) to what exactly?.

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  • eyeopener  |  November 09 2012, 1:06PM

    @2ladybugs I have just been to the Defra website to explore notfiable diseases in respect of animal health, and there is no requirement to test for bovine TB in sheep, although there is for goats and only if on the same farm as an infected herd of cattle.

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  • eyeopener  |  November 09 2012, 12:56PM

    @2ladybugs Have you got a link (URL) to your scource please.

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