Vaccine breakthrough may mean no more badger culls



British scientists have made a breakthrough which may enable cattle to be vaccinated against TB, doing away with the need to cull the badgers believed to be infecting them.

Currently, vaccinating cattle against bovine tuberculosis is banned throughout Europe, because there is no way of distinguishing in current diagnostic tests between an animal that has merely been vaccinated, and an animal that has actually contracted the disease.

Vaccinated but healthy cattle would thus appear contaminated and could not be sold or traded abroad – and TB vaccination of cattle has been prohibited across the EU since 1978.

However, researchers led by Professor Glyn Hewinson, of Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey, have developed a so-called "diva" test – meaning differentiation of infected from vaccinated animals – which makes the distinction between the two clear.

Such a test, if used in conjunction with a new cattle TB vaccine being developed simultaneously, would enable the Government to ask the EU for the law to be changed, so cattle could indeed be immunised against a disease which is rapidly spreading in parts of Britain, and has precipitated the highly controversial badger cull that is about to start.

However, both the vaccine and the test have to be validated by regulatory agencies, a long and complex process which "may take years", according to the Government's Chief Veterinary Officer, Nigel Gibbens.

That has to happen before EU law could be altered and the cattle vaccination ban lifted. In the meantime, the trial cull of badgers is set to begin in two pilot areas in Gloucestershire and Somerset.

The trial cull, which is strongly supported by farmers but has attracted intense opposition from animal welfare activists, who have been accused of harassing farmers and who have threatened to disrupt nighttime shooting operations.

The development of the diva or differentiation test was "absolutely critical", Mr Gibbens said.

"Yes, it has been developed, but there is a long way to go," he said. "We believe we've got one that can be practically applied, but in terms of getting international recognition for it, it is months and possibly years away."

Such a test has to be validated by the Paris-based OIE – the Organisation Internationale des Epizooties – or the World Organisation for Animal Health.

Similarly, the new cattle TB vaccine being developed in parallel by the Weybridge team has to be validated for efficacy and safety by Britain's Veterinary Medicines Directorate – a process which has already begun.

If both are passed as fit for purpose, Britain can then attempt to persuade the other 26 member states of the EU to lift the vaccination ban, something to which the Government is committed, Mr Gibbens said. "We're determined to push this through," he said. "But to get the vaccine and the test sorted, and a change in EU law, is some years away. I really would like to say we could accelerate this whole process, but I think 'years' is right."

Mr Gibbens, who has been Chief Vet, based in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs since 2008, said that more than £34m had already been spent on research "and we're committed to spending [£15.5m] in the next four years on a whole range of parallel streams of activities to try and get vaccines for cattle and badgers".

The other main area of the research is on an oral TB vaccine for badgers, which would be much simpler to administer – as it could be left out in bait – than the present injectable badger TB vaccine, which was licensed in 2010, and for which badgers have to be individually cage-trapped. Such an oral vaccine is being developed, Mr Gibbens said.

The Government is increasingly being criticised for not using the available injectable badger vaccine as a TB control programme instead of culling, something which is now happening in Wales.

Earlier this year John Griffiths, Environment Minister in the Labour Welsh Assembly, reversed the decision of the previous Labour-Plaid Cymru administration to carry out a cull, and a mass vaccination programme is being carried out in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. So far, 930 animals have been vaccinated

But the Government declines to go down this road, Mr Gibbens said, because "it's not quickly effective enough, it's difficult to do in practical terms, and it's expensive".

Cage-trapping badgers for vaccination (or indeed for shooting) costs about £2,500 per hectare, whereas simply shooting them as they run freely – which is about to happen in the English pilot culls – costs about £200.

While the cost of the pilot culls in England is to be met by farmers, the cost of the vaccination programme in Wales is currently being met by the Welsh Assembly Government.

Suggested Topics
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower