Veterinary associations claim an “opportunity has been missed” to base a TB eradication strategy in Wales on scientific evidence, after the country’s government scrapped plans to cull badgers in favour of vaccination.

Veterinary associations claim an “opportunity has been missed” to base a TB eradication strategy in Wales on scientific evidence, after the country’s government scrapped plans to cull badgers.

Badgers will not be culled in WalesThe Welsh Government yesterday published a framework for dealing with TB based on scientific evidence carried out by the Bovine TB Science Review group. Welsh environment minister John Griffiths announced he would launch a badger vaccination project as part of its work to try to eradicate bTB.

He said he had based his decision on the review, commissioned last summer, and on other evidence and advice provided to him.

However, the BVA and the BCVA questioned whether the decision did agree with currently available scientific evidence.

Announcing his plans for the next four years, Mr Griffiths said: “Bovine TB has a significant financial and social impact on farmers and the wider community in Wales. I have visited and spoken to a number of cattle farming families across Wales. I know from listening just how difficult it is and how the consequences of TB can be devastating.
“We have a Government commitment to take a science-led approach to tackling this serious disease and I am personally committed to the eradication of bovine TB in Wales.
 “The strategic framework for bovine TB eradication acknowledges that we must deal with all sources of bovine TB, including wildlife, if we are going to achieve our goal of eradicating this debilitating disease.
“I have considered a number of options, including whether culling or vaccination of badgers are appropriate. After careful consideration, I have decided to pursue a badger vaccination project within the Intensive Action Area.”

However, Carl Padgett, BVA president (pictured below), said: “This is clearly a political decision, rather than a scientific one, and it will potentially set back our efforts to tackle this devastating disease by many years.
“The science review states that no scientific evidence exists to assess whether vaccinating badgers will reduce the incidence of TB in cattle. Vaccinating infected badgers has no effect and we know there is a high level of infection in the badger population.
Carl Padgett, BVA president“Yet the previous strategy to cull badgers in the Intensive Action Area was backed by scientific evidence that a cull could reduce cattle herd breakdowns by an average of 16 per cent over nine years. We are deeply disappointed that the minister has failed to listen to the advice of those most affected by bovine TB – the veterinary surgeons and farmers dealing with the disease every day.
“Meanwhile, cattle will continue to be culled as we wait for what may, or may not, be the benefits of badger vaccination.”

And Andrew Praill, BCVA president, added: “Dropping scientifically proven plans to tackle the disease in wildlife flies in the face of the Welsh Government’s stated aim of a science-led approach to tackling bovine TB.
“Farmers and vets in the Intensive Action Area have put a huge amount of effort into complying with stricter cattle measures in the hope that the Government would take action to deal with the wildlife reservoir. We fear the announcement could seriously jeopardise the relationship between the industry and the government.
“There has already been a long delay leading up to the announcement, during which time the opportunity has been missed to base an eradication strategy on existing scientific evidence. Sadly, this appears to be a case of making the science fit the policy, not making the policy fit the science.”

Mr Griffiths explained he had asked his chief veterinary officer, Christianne Glossop, to design a five-year vaccination programme that would begin in the Intensive Action Area. He had also asked for other areas where vaccination could be expected to contribute to TB eradication to be considered.
Speaking about his decision not to cull badgers in the Intensive Action Area, Mr Griffiths said: “This has been a difficult decision to take. In making it, I have considered the likely benefits that vaccination or culling could have. Any decision to cull would need to be justified on the basis that it would be necessary to eliminate or substantially reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle.
“I have considered the evidence provided to me, including scientific and legal advice, and have noted the advice on potential benefit that might be obtained by vaccination or culling. At present, I am not satisfied that a cull of badgers would be necessary to bring about a substantial reduction in cases of TB in cattle.”

Mr Griffiths insisted the strategic framework he had outlined took a comprehensive approach, with proposed policy changes including improved management of long-running and persistent TB herd breakdowns, the pilot of an audit of TB testing, a voluntary scheme to share bovine TB breakdown data and an advisory service for farmers affected by the disease.

The Strategic Framework for Bovine TB Eradication can be accessed here on the Welsh Government website.

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