SUPPLIES of a vaccine being used to protect badgers from spreading bovine tuberculosis through the countryside have been suspended, the Government has announced.
The decision is the result of an ongoing worldwide shortage of the BCG vaccine and the need to prioritise use in humans other badgers, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.
Although the vaccine is known to immunise badgers against the disease, the impact of its use on a big scale has not been established.
Defra made funding available for private groups to apply for, so that vaccination could take place in ‘edge areas’ - the area of the country separating high-risk areas where the disease is rife and low-risk areas such as Yorkshire.
Giving an update this week on the strategy to eradicate the disease, Defra said that while it had overseen the completion of the first year of six private badger vaccination projects funded under the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, supply of the vaccine would now be halted.
In a statement, the department said: “An ongoing worldwide shortage of BCG vaccine and the need to prioritise use in humans over badgers means that, in line with advice from Public Health England, we are suspending sourcing of the vaccine for badger vaccination schemes in England until the supply situation resolves.
“This follows the decision of the Welsh Government to do the same.”
Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “The news that the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, and other badger vaccination schemes in England, is to be suspended because of a shortage of the BCG vaccine is disappointing as we have always said badger vaccination has a role to play in stopping disease spread in the edge and low risk areas.
“However, we fully understand the reasons for this decision and hope the supply issue will be resolved as quickly as possible so this work can continue.”
The recent culls in the South of England took place between August 31 and October 12 in Somerset and Dorset, and from September 2 and October 14 in Gloucestershire.
In total, 1,467 badgers were culled against a minimum target of 935 and a maximum target of 2,038.
Defra’s report into the action said: “The results from the 2015 culls indicate that all three areas have delivered the level of badger removal required to be confident of disease control benefits and that the culls were carried out to a high standard of public safety.”
Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: “We are on track to deliver TB freedom to more than half of the country by the end of this Parliament which will boost our trade prospects and is expected to deliver benefits worth millions of pounds to our dairy and beef industries. Badger control in the South West has been successful and we will enable it to take place over a wide number of areas next year.”
To improve cattle movement controls and limit the spread of the disease, the Government plans to introduce statutory post-movement testing next year for cattle entering the Low Risk Area.
More than 269,000 cattle have been culled in Britain because of bTB since the start of 2008.
British Veterinary Association president Sean Wensley said he had some reservations over methods used to cull badgers.
He said: “While we continue to support targeted, effective and humane badger culling as a vital element of the bTB eradication programme, we remain disappointed that Defra plans to continue using controlled shooting and roll it out to new areas, given that the first two years of culling in the pilot areas failed to demonstrate conclusively that controlled shooting could be carried out effectively or humanely based on the criteria that were set.
“We urge the Government to reconsider this policy.”