Europe digs in heels on bTB vaccine

A bovine tuberculosis (bTB) vaccine is unlikely to be commercially available until 2023, the European Commission has told Defra secretary Owen Paterson in a letter.

The letter, sent to Paterson by EU health commissioner Tonio Borg last month, also said that vaccination against bTB in cattle was “explicitly forbidden” in EU legislation on disease control.

Borg explained that it was also “implicitly” forbidden for such testing to be carried out in intra-Union trade legislation as “vaccination is not compatible with the provisions for testing and herd qualification”.

According to the Commission, the main reason for the ban on a vaccination was due to the possibility that vaccinated animals would not be fully protected against bTB infection. “Due to the suboptimal protection induced by the available vaccines (live BCG vaccine), vaccinated animals may become infected if exposed to the disease agent and then they cannot be distinguished from the non-infected vaccinated animals,” said Borg.  

Because there is an inability to differentiate between vaccinated and non-vaccinated cattle, Borg spoke about the Differentiating Infected from Vaccinated Animals (DIVA) test, which some in the industry believe would be compatible with a bTB vaccine, despite it having not being approved for use by the EU yet.

He said: “Fundamental scientific information is not yet available on the reliability and feasibility of cattle vaccination accompanied by use of DIVA test(s), which is fundamental for a possible change in the current EU policy on the control and eradication of bTB.”

However, Jack Reedy of charity The Badger Trust highlighted that such news was not only bad for cattle, but “badgers, the industry and farmers” too.

Reedy revealed his frustration, saying the EU was taking more time than he thought necessary to approve the DIVA test. He said: “The EU is a massive irritation, because we know the DIVA test is available and is effective, although not everything is watertight, and it’s very odd that it’s taking so long to refine the test – even more so because we need it.

“It’s such a desperate, urgent and important matter for British farmers, and the government is also arguing for this to be approved, because it’s a long-term solution to the problem.”

Badger cull

Reedy also gave an update on the Badger Trust’s future action on the badger cull, due to go ahead this summer. “We are getting ourselves ready to embark on more vaccinations in the coming months – we cannot do that until the breeding season is over,” he said.

“We are putting our mouths, efforts and a great deal of money into taking part in the badger vaccination programme, which has the benefit of not disturbing the badger population, which is the opposite of what the cull does.”