WALES, UK - The Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW) accused ministers of 'avoiding the issue' of bovine TB in badgers after a report suggested that an abandoned badger vaccination project could be restarted in 2017.
The vaccination project was halted for its fifth year following a global shortage of the BCG vaccine, as supplies had to be prioritised for human use.
The Welsh Government asked the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to look into the effects of the halt, and APHA found through modelling that vaccinating for four years, missing year five, and returning to vaccinate in year six is not different from vaccinating for five consecutive years.
Wales' Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Rebecca Evans, said that the government would continue to evaluate the success of various TB reduction schemes in the Intensive Action Area.
The FUW called for a more 'science led' policy to control TB in wildlife, and called the project wasteful. Ministerial advice provided to the Welsh Government in 2012 suggested vaccination in the north Pembrokeshire Intensive Action Area (IAA) could cost Welsh farmers and the taxpayer an additional £3.5 million compared with a badger cull.
“The results after four years of badger vaccination in the IAA appear to support the original assessment that vaccination would cost farmers and the taxpayers millions and save the lives of far fewer cattle than badger culling would have done,” said FUW Deputy President and north Pembrokeshire farmer Brian Thomas.
“Based upon trials in other areas, we could have expected a thirty or forty per cent reduction in cattle herd TB incidences by now, had the original plan to cull badgers gone ahead. Instead, matters in the area are no different to other comparable areas where badger vaccination has not taken place.”
Mr Thomas was speaking after attending a Welsh Government briefing session where the results of Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) modelling of badger vaccination strategies were presented.
“A key focus of the modelling work carried out and the subsequent statement made by Welsh Government indicates a possible return to badger vaccination in 2017. In our view that would mean returning to a pointless and costly exercise which has yet to show any positive impacts, whereas badger culling as originally planned would already have resulted in significant reductions in TB incidences.”
Mr Thomas said there was also no guarantee that the BCG vaccine used on badgers would be available by 2017.
“There is currently a global shortage of BCG vaccine, and given that one badger dose can vaccinate twenty infants in regions where human TB is a huge problem, such as Africa, it would be immoral to deplete global vaccine stocks by vaccinating badgers.”
The average cost of vaccinating each badger caught in the north Pembrokeshire Intensive Action Area has been around £700.
“In the 12 months to the end of September 2015 the number of cattle culled in Wales due to TB was 7380, an increase of 25 per cent on the equivalent period to September 2014.
“That’s an equivalent to 20 cattle culled every day of the week.”
Mr Thomas said farmers were doing their part in terms of controlling the disease, and accepted that cattle which represent a risk need to be destroyed.
“Welsh Ministers need to recognise that other animals which represent a risk should also be controlled, and that to avoid the issue by spending millions on vaccinating badgers will simply make matters worse in the long run.”
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