Vaccines for badgers (against bTB)

By JW Dowey - 22 Aug 2014 10:39:42 GMT
Vaccines for badgers (against bTB)

Badgers amuse the UK public, even in urban areas, by emerging from their setts and snuffling around their woods in a non-aggressive way, unless you are a farmer with sick cattle; English badger image; Credit: © Shutterstock

When badgers come out in the evening, Sussex farmers and landowners may be giving them a welcome injection. A voluntary group called the Sussex Badger Vaccination Programme have created a deal in this high-risk bovine tuberculosis (bTB) area that avoids the likely cull in the west of England. Cattle to cattle and wildlife to cattle transmission certainly takes place and has caused culls in Ireland and Australia recently, as well as a tragically-desperate killing field last year in Gloucester and Somerset.

The UK government are now about to start culling again, believe it or not, despite protests from the public and scientists. With science and the phenomenon of "perturbation" against the government's culling actions, it is surprising that the vaccination option has never been exercised. The expense is great but the 76% reduction in infection for badgers serves the needs of farmers and politicos alike.

Perturbation is explained in our story here on the cull, along with further background in - Cull or Cure?. The SBVP hope to establish territorial "herd immunity" in populations of badgers that will prevent infected badgers from entering most of East Sussex. The cost for a farmer is reduced in their county because 5 volunteers do the injecting with many others able to give their time to bait with peanuts, trap them and help the animals to recover. International Animal Rescue is among the donors contributing to the cost of £25 per badger.

The political implications for both local and national politicians are loaded. If Sussex succeeds, then the cull proposed only by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) looks even more ridiculous. Opposition is very strong, except among farmers, with whom the argument should be more about efficiency of cattle management than emotive dispatch of their "enemy."

If the farmers can be persuaded to contact the vaccination programme at - SBVP , there is a possibility that this long-running and international problem could finally be laid to rest. There are already some measures in force preventing the movement of cattle. Hopefully only these high risk areas need the vaccinations, which would save the government some expense. The cost of culls is so exorbitant that the vaccine, as it is developed and becomes cheaper, could be the most cost-effective option by far.