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 tests between an animal that has been vaccinated and an animal that has contracted the disease. Vaccinated but healthy cattle would thus appear contaminated and could not be sold abroad — and TB vaccination of cattle has been prohibited since 1978.
However, researchers led by Professor Glyn Hewinson, of Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey, have developed a “DIVA” test, meaning Differentiation of Infected from Vaccinated Animals, which makes the distinction clear. Such a test, if used in conjunction with a cattle TB vaccine being developed simultaneously, would enable the Government to ask the EU for the law to be changed, so cattle could be immunised against a disease which is rapidly spreading, and has precipitated the highly controversial badger cull that is about to start.
However, both the vaccine and the test have to be validated, a long and complex process which “may take years”, according to the Government's Chief Veterinary Officer, Nigel Gibbens. In the meantime, the trial cull is to begin in two pilot areas in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
In July, Northern Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill announced that tests will be conducted into how badgers infected with bovine TB can be culled. Officials here will test badgers, vaccinating and releasing those that test negative. Those that test positive will be “removed”.