Our Response to the Badger Vaccination Programme

Press Release – For Immediate Release

The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales welcomes the decision of John Griffiths to pursue vaccination of badgers in the control of bovine TB this summer. This decision is supported by the long term research from the Independent Scientific Group that identified the culling of badgers would not make a meaningful contribution in the management of bovine TB.

Badger by Jon Hawkins

Badger by Jon Hawkins

State funded vaccination of badgers is a progressive approach to disease control and will be a leading example to the rest of Britain on how this terrible disease can be eradicated.

We appreciate that some farmers have been through an appalling experience, however the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales feels that both vaccination of badgers alongside movement control and appropriate management will see the end of this awful disease.

One of the main reserves for the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, Teifi Marshes, was within the area identified for culling where there are buffalo on the reserve which are subject to TB testing. The Trust is keen to engage with the Welsh Government’s vaccination programme and will assist in the implementation of this.

This is a long term view which will in the end benefit both farmers and the fantastic wildlife which Wales can be justifiably proud of.

Sarah Kessell, CEO of Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, said “As landowners and animal managers ourselves we welcome vaccination as the best approach for all.”

Rachel Sharp, CEO of Wildlife Trusts Wales said; “Science and the long term eradication of this disease has won today. The decision opens the way for Wales to initiate a full scale vaccination programme that in the longer term will prove both sustainable and effective.”

Notes for Editors

Minister’s statement

Llywydd, 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 can be devastating.

At any one time 10% of herds in Wales are under TB restrictions, with areas such as the Intensive Action Area in North Pembrokeshire being particularly badly affected. The costs to industry and government are substantial. Last year alone Welsh Government paid out just over £12 million in compensation for cattle slaughtered. 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.

In line with this commitment, last Summer I commissioned a review of the evidence base regarding the eradication of bovine TB in Wales. This was overseen by the Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor John Harries. I would like to express my thanks to John together with the Chair of the panel, Professor Chris Gaskell, and the other members for this important work.

The report, together with a considerable amount of work led by my Chief Veterinary Officer, has led to this Strategic Framework for Bovine TB Eradication covering the next 4 years.

The Strategy acknowledges that in building on the cattle control and biosecurity measures; we must deal with all sources of bovine TB, including in wildlife, if we are going to achieve our goal of eradicating this debilitating disease within the Intensive Action Area and from Wales.

For this reason, I have considered a range of options including whether culling or vaccination of badgers is appropriate.

After careful consideration I have decided to pursue a badger vaccination project.

I have asked my Chief Veterinary Officer to design the project to begin in the Intensive Action Area this summer and continue for five years. I have also asked her to consider other geographical areas where vaccination could also contribute to TB eradication. My intention is that the projects are developed to ensure that the potential effect can be monitored with a view to assessing impact.

Llywydd, this has been a difficult decision to take and, in making it, I have considered the likely benefits that culling or vaccination 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. In determining this matter I have considered the evidence provided to me, including scientific and legal advice. I have noted the advice on the potential benefits that might be obtained from vaccination or culling. My conclusion is that I am not at present satisfied that a cull of badgers would be necessary to bring about a substantial reduction in the incidence of bovine TB

in cattle in which case I cannot authorise a cull under the Animal Health Act 1981.

The fact that I intend to authorise vaccination at present does not, and will not, preclude me from considering whatever further or new options may be appropriate and available at any time.

In taking the programme forward we will continue to work with the agriculture industry, wider rural communities, veterinary profession, eradication boards, and the Industry Advisory Group in the Intensive Action Area. These all have an important role in the eradication of bovine TB in Wales.

Our new Strategic Framework describes the comprehensive approach, which has been approved by the EU as part of the UK TB Eradication Plan, necessary to achieve eradication. Proposed policy changes include improvement in the management of long running and persistent TB herd breakdowns; the piloting of an audit of TB testing carried out by Official Veterinarians in Wales; a voluntary scheme to see how bovine TB breakdown data may be made available to neighbouring farms; and the establishment of an advisory service which will provide a full range of business and personal support to farmers affected by TB. All of these measures are aimed at ensuring that we continue to take a robust and consistent approach in dealing with this epidemic.

TB eradication is a long-term commitment that will require the application of new technologies and scientific developments as they become available. For example, there are technical and legal reasons why cattle vaccination is not a viable option at the moment but in order to put Wales at the forefront if it does become available, I have asked my Chief Veterinary Officer to convene a working group of experts to prepare for a cattle vaccination strategy.

Llywydd, all involved in these matters are united in wanting to see this terrible disease eradicated as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, as the Science Review states, there are no easy or quick solutions.

In order to take further steps to work towards eradication it is crucial that Government and the farming industry continue to work together towards our shared aim. The steps we are taking now are designed to make progress towards the ultimate goal of a TB free Wales.That is the purpose of our renewed comprehensive strategy and vaccination programme.

 

Vaccinating has many advantages:

  • No more expensive than culling
  • No risk of making TB worse
  • Best long-term strategy for reduction in TB
  • Best outcome for badgers AND cattle
  • Actually reduces prevalence of disease in badgers
  • What is the most reliable and up-to-date evidence on this subject?
  • The most comprehensive study into badgers, bovine TB and cattle was conducted by an independent research group, the Independent Scientific Group (ISG), who were funded by DEFRA. The ISG were a group of expert scientists chosen for their specialist knowledge of badgers, ecology, epidemiology, and statistics. They devised a large scale experiment to assess the effects of badger culling on the spatial distribution of bovine TB infection in badgers and cattle. This experiment took place between over 7 years (1998 – 2005) and cost in the region of £50 million.
  • How did they study the effects of culling badgers on bovine TB incidence in cattle?
  • They measured the effects of three different treatments on the incidence of bovine TB in cattle:
  • • Widespread ‘proactive’ culling (as many badgers as possible were killed to maintain low badger densities across the area every year),
  • • Localized ‘reactive’ culling (badgers were only killed in areas where there were outbreaks of bovine TB in cattle locally),
  • • No culling (no badgers were killed in these areas).
  • To ensure that the experiment was reliable, each treatment was replicated ten times in areas covering approximately 100km2, giving a total of 30 trial areas covering 3000km2.
  • They recorded badger activity and the number of road killed badgers in each trial areas and all culled badgers were examined and tested for bovine TB. Cattle were also tested for bovine TB during routine veterinary surveillance. A total of 11 000 badgers were killed during this experiment.
  • What did they find?
  • Proactive culling significantly reduced badger density in all 10 trial areas, and also reduced the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in these areas. However, in the areas adjacent to culled areas the incidence of bovine TB actually increased (Woodroffe et al. 2007. Journal of Animal Ecology. 78, 818-827). Importantly, even in the pro-active culling areas bovine TB was not fully eradicated in cattle despite the continued removal of badgers over many years (Jenkins et al. 2007Journal of Applied Ecology. 44, 897-908).
  •  What did the Independent Scientific Group finally conclude?  
  • “The ISG’s work, much of which has already been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals has reached two key conclusions. First, while badgers are clearly a source of cattle TB, careful evaluation of our own and other’s data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain. Indeed, some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse. Second, weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of the disease. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed and geographic spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures”
  • Bourne et al. 2007. Bovine TB: the Scientific Evidence. A Science Base for a Sustainable Policy to Control TB in Cattle. Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB
  • A further study, carried out after the cull, stated that any ongoing benefits of the cull were still only “modest” (Jenkins et al. 2008.International Journal of Infectious Diseases. 12, 475-465). This study also states publicly that significant proactive badger culling prevented only 12 confirmed breakdowns over 6 years (there would be expected to be 130 herd breakdowns per year in the absence of a cull). From a business point of view, the costs of culling exceeded the savings achieved through reduced incidence of herd break down derived from culling badgers (Bourne et al. 2007; Jenkins et al. 2008). This is clearly unsustainable from an economic point of view. Further data published in 2010 still found “reductions in cattle TB incidence achieved by repeated badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended and did not offset the financial costs of culling” (Jenkins 2010). These data on the longer term impacts of the RBCT continue to be gathered and future trends may alter our understanding of the impacts of culling.
  • Other Important Information
  • It has been highlighted many times that many other British wildlife species including red deer, fallow deer, fox, polecat, wood mouse and rat can also all carry bovine TB. Eradicating badgers cannot eradicate bovine TB as it is present in other species. Fallow and red deer are considered to present the highest risk when you take into account disease pathology and likelihood of transmission, and then only when they are in high densities. Less is known about the epidemiology of the disease in other mammals but it is likely that in some cases they are end hosts, and not transmitting the disease back to cattle.
  • The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW) knows that bovine TB (bTB) in cattle is a significant problem for farming in Wales, and that urgent action is required to combat the disease. The Wildlife Trusts, as a stock owners and managers, recognise the serious disruption and anxiety caused to farmers experiencing a herd breakdown. We particularly recognise the important role that the livestock industry can play in the environmentally-sensitive management of the countryside.
  • What is the most reliable and up-to-date evidence on this subject?
  • The most comprehensive study into badgers, bovine TB and cattle was conducted by an independent research group, the Independent Scientific Group (ISG), who were funded by DEFRA. The ISG were a group of expert scientists chosen for their specialist knowledge of badgers, ecology, epidemiology, and statistics. They devised a large scale experiment to assess the effects of badger culling on the spatial distribution of bovine TB infection in badgers and cattle. This experiment took place between over 7 years (1998 – 2005) and cost in the region of £50 million.
  • How did they study the effects of culling badgers on bovine TB incidence in cattle?
  • They measured the effects of three different treatments on the incidence of bovine TB in cattle:
  • • Widespread ‘proactive’ culling (as many badgers as possible were killed to maintain low badger densities across the area every year),
  • • Localized ‘reactive’ culling (badgers were only killed in areas where there were outbreaks of bovine TB in cattle locally),
  • • No culling (no badgers were killed in these areas).
  • To ensure that the experiment was reliable, each treatment was replicated ten times in areas covering approximately 100km2, giving a total of 30 trial areas covering 3000km2.
  • They recorded badger activity and the number of road killed badgers in each trial areas and all culled badgers were examined and tested for bovine TB. Cattle were also tested for bovine TB during routine veterinary surveillance. A total of 11 000 badgers were killed during this experiment.
  • What did they find?
  • Proactive culling significantly reduced badger density in all 10 trial areas, and also reduced the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in these areas. However, in the areas adjacent to culled areas the incidence of bovine TB actually increased (Woodroffe et al. 2007. Journal of Animal Ecology. 78, 818-827). Importantly, even in the pro-active culling areas bovine TB was not fully eradicated in cattle despite the continued removal of badgers over many years (Jenkins et al. 2007Journal of Applied Ecology. 44, 897-908).
  •  What did the Independent Scientific Group finally conclude?  
  • “The ISG’s work, much of which has already been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals has reached two key conclusions. First, while badgers are clearly a source of cattle TB, careful evaluation of our own and other’s data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain. Indeed, some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse. Second, weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of the disease. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed and geographic spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures”
  • Bourne et al. 2007. Bovine TB: the Scientific Evidence. A Science Base for a Sustainable Policy to Control TB in Cattle. Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB
  • A further study, carried out after the cull, stated that any ongoing benefits of the cull were still only “modest” (Jenkins et al. 2008.International Journal of Infectious Diseases. 12, 475-465). This study also states publicly that significant proactive badger culling prevented only 12 confirmed breakdowns over 6 years (there would be expected to be 130 herd breakdowns per year in the absence of a cull). From a business point of view, the costs of culling exceeded the savings achieved through reduced incidence of herd break down derived from culling badgers (Bourne et al. 2007; Jenkins et al. 2008). This is clearly unsustainable from an economic point of view. Further data published in 2010 still found “reductions in cattle TB incidence achieved by repeated badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended and did not offset the financial costs of culling” (Jenkins 2010). These data on the longer term impacts of the RBCT continue to be gathered and future trends may alter our understanding of the impacts of culling.
  • Other Important Information
  • It has been highlighted many times that many other British wildlife species including red deer, fallow deer, fox, polecat, wood mouse and rat can also all carry bovine TB. Eradicating badgers cannot eradicate bovine TB as it is present in other species. Fallow and red deer are considered to present the highest risk when you take into account disease pathology and likelihood of transmission, and then only when they are in high densities. Less is known about the epidemiology of the disease in other mammals but it is likely that in some cases they are end hosts, and not transmitting the disease back to cattle.
  • The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW) knows that bovine TB (bTB) in cattle is a significant problem for farming in Wales, and that urgent action is required to combat the disease. The Wildlife Trusts, as a stock owners and managers, recognise the serious disruption and anxiety caused to farmers experiencing a herd breakdown. We particularly recognise the important role that the livestock industry can play in the environmentally-sensitive management of the countryside.

    www.welshwildlife.org