NFU welcomes bovine TB cattle vaccine field trials

The National Farmers' Union has welcomed the first trials for a cattle vaccine and new skin test for bovine tuberculosis (bTB) as part of efforts to vaccinate livestock against the disease.

Further herds are to join the trials for a cattle vaccine in the coming months
Further herds are to join the trials for a cattle vaccine in the coming months

NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts said the vaccination programme would be of interest to many farmers and has called on Defra to fully commit to an early rollout, should the vaccine be effective.

The first field trials have been launched on a cattle farm in Hertfordshire, with further herds in England and Wales to join the scheme in the coming months, The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) said.

It is part of a shift in strategy by the Government which aims to phase out intensive culling of badgers, a protected species which can transmit the disease to livestock, and to rollout a cattle vaccine by 2025.

Bovine TB costs taxpayers around £100 million a year, with more than 36,000 cattle slaughtered in the last year to tackle the disease.

It has also led to the controversial badger cull which has seen thousands of badgers killed in an attempt to stop the disease in many counties in England in recent years.

Mr Roberts said: “With bovine TB continuing to devastate farms across the country, the start of field trials for a cattle vaccination programme will be of interest to many farmers. Piloting a cattle vaccine should be treated as an urgent matter for Defra and it needs its full commitment to achieve an early rollout, should the vaccine be effective.

“As we wait, the NFU continues to champion a comprehensive approach utilising the best available tools to tackle bTB. Significant inroads have been made through wildlife controls, which have shown incredible results in recent years and have, for the first time in decades, given many farmers a light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel.

“This latest development will take time and we hope that vaccination of cattle will further contribute to eliminating this disease when it is available. However, we must continue to remove the risk from all vectors to achieve eradication and we remain significantly concerned about the direction of travel from the UK Government in its bTB eradication strategy.”

The trials comes after a breakthrough in developing a new 'Diva' skin test, which for the first time can differentiate between vaccinated animals and those which had bovine TB, enabling a vaccine to be deployed.

A bTB-free farm in Hertfordshire has begun the first phase of the field trials to determine the safety and accuracy of the Diva skin test, which will be tested on further herds across England and Wales.

If those trials prove successful, the study will be expanded to more farms in England and Wales where both the cattle BCG vaccine and Diva test will be tested together, to gain evidence for licensing both products in the UK.

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