As part of the U.K. Government’s goal to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (bTB) by 2038, they have set out a plan for the next phase of their strategy.
This includes field trials of a cattle vaccine, plans to vaccinate more badgers against the disease and improved testing to intercept TB earlier.
The Government is accelerating their work in order to deploy the cattle vaccine within the next five years.
More than 30,000 cattle are slaughtered in the U.K. each year due to infection from TB and a cattle vaccination could become a powerful tool in the battle against the disease.
Plans to perform the necessary testing and approvals, to ensure its safety and efficacy, are being put in place.
UK Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said: “Whilst there is no single way to combat this damaging and complex disease, cattle vaccination will be a new tool for our multi-pronged approach to tackle it and importantly prevent it, providing vital support to our farming communities.”
Badger culling has resulted in significant reductions in the spread of the disease to cattle.
During an independent analysis, intensive badger culling has resulted in reductions of bTB by 66% and 37% in the two areas analysed. However, as wider preventative measures are introduced, they intend to phase out intensive badger culling.
Environment Secretary George Eustice addressed this issue: “No one wants to continue the cull of this protected species indefinitely so, once the weight of disease in wildlife has been addressed, we will accelerate other elements of our strategy including improved diagnostics and cattle vaccination.”
Improvement of the cattle testing regime is also a key component of the U.K.’s strategy to combat TB.
The Government is determined to have more sensitive testing in the hope of intercepting the disease earlier and removing it from cattle herds quicker.
According to the new strategy, the government intends to start deploying badger vaccination in areas where the four-year cull cycle has ended, alongside ongoing surveillance of the disease in badgers in that area.
They believe that through culling and vaccinating the badgers, the cattle vaccine can become more effective.
The latest statistics on bTB in England show the overall number of new herd incidents of the disease down by 9% in the last year (to Nov 2019), a 10% reduction in the number of herds not officially free of the disease and a 4% reduction in the total number of animals slaughtered due to the disease.
In the short-term, testing for the disease will become more regular in two high-risk counties and is expected to be extended to all parts of the high-risk area from 2021.