Conclusions drawn by the Bovine TB Advisory Group in its final report state that there are reasons to believe bovine TB can be controlled and eradicated, but it will take at least 20 years.
The report, published on April 8, summarises the Group’s work since it was convened in 2006 and makes a number of recommendations on the future approach to eradicating bovine TB, as well as including a document aimed at challenging myths and misunderstandings around bovine TB.
The report marks the conclusion of the Group’s work, which has provided advice to Ministers and the Chief Veterinary Officer on developing TB control policies, as well as playing an important role in communicating with farmers, vets and other stakeholders.
The group, headed by RCVS junior vice-president Peter Jinman, concluded these main points:
- Bovine TB has been a difficult and demanding problem for many years. There are reasons for believing that it can be controlled and finally eradicated but this will require a long-term commitment by all stakeholders and take at least 20 years.
- Very many wo are involved in battling this disease are becoming disheartened with the lack of progress and with a widely held belief that the failure to tackle the wildlife reservoir undermines their efforts.
- There is a need for strong and committed leadership (both Government and industry) to develop a clear consensus on tackling this disease. Renewed vigour needs to be injected into this long campaign and we welcome the establishment of the England TB Eradication Group.
- Although control of the disease in cattle might be accomplished by cattle measures alone the time scale is long and the cost to the farming industry and the public purse will be considerable. There are not sufficient additional practical cattle controls which will result in the eradication of TB in the absence of measures to address infection in the wildlife reservoir.
- The Secretary of State‟s decision has removed the option (preferred by many in the farming industry) of culling badgers in England. However, reducing the risk of transmission from the wildlife vector to cattle does not solely mean the culling of badgers, but encompasses all practical measures to break the cycle of transmission.
- An injectable badger vaccine is due to be licensed by 2010 and an oral vaccine is expected by 2014 at the earliest. The practical widespread application of badger vaccines has the potential to contribute to eradication of bovine TB. However, it is likely to take several years before an effect in cattle is observed.
- Vaccination of cattle is further away and will require the development of a test to differentiate vaccinated from unvaccinated cattle (DIVA) as well as a change in EU legislation before it can be used in the cattle population.
- Given the current rate of spread of TB we are concerned there may be over-reliance on a future vaccination programme (cattle and badgers) – this should not negate the urgent need for measures to tackle the problem now.
- The emphasis of the current TB testing programme (surveillance and control) appears to be unbalanced i.e. the same approach is used in both high risk and low risk areas.
- Further measures aimed at stopping the spread of the disease will cause difficulties and costs to both the taxpayer and the farming industry. It is in the public interest and in line with the responsibility and cost sharing agenda that costs are shared.
According to DEFRA, this report will be considered by the TB Eradication Group, which makes recommendations to the Government on eradicating bovine TB in England.
The full report and the document on myths and misunderstandings, can be found on DEFRAs TB Advisory Group webpage .