UK vets turn to behavioural science to curb bovine TB

A new report issued by the British Veterinary Association sets out a new approach to tackle bovine TB.
calendar icon 29 July 2020
clock icon 3 minute read

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has set out a comprehensive approach to tackling bovine tuberculosis (bTB) across the UK, drawing on behavioural science and proposing 35 wide-ranging recommendations.

BVA’s new bTB policy position, launched on 28 July, brings together veterinary expertise in cattle and wildlife and applies new and emerging evidence to set out a holistic roadmap to guide the efforts of vets, farmers, and government in bTB control and eradication. At the heart of the new policy is the application of behavioural science, recognising that the actions of vets and farmers are key to successful disease control programmes.

Some of the policy’s key recommendations include

  • Setting up a framework for earned recognition to reward good biosecurity
  • Enhancing data sharing to support knowledge-based livestock trading and good decision-making on farm
  • Securing long-term funding for dedicated bTB advisory services
  • Simplifying and prioritising research priorities
  • Introducing systems to allow greater data sharing between government vets and private vets
  • Ensuring continued cooperation and collaboration on bTB between the four UK governments after Brexit

A supplementary paper also assesses the short, medium and longer-term impacts of COVID-19 on bTB control and recommends steps to ensure that veterinary surveillance and controls continue across all species, with appropriate social distancing measures, to avoid undetected spread of disease.

BVA Junior Vice President James Russell said

“Bovine tuberculosis remains one of the UK’s most challenging animal health and welfare issues. However, for too long, the debate has been unhelpfully characterised in terms of cattle versus badgers, and this misses the complex issues behind the disease, including understanding human behaviour and its impact on decisions.

“For the first time, we’re calling for behavioural science to be front and centre in the approach to bTB research and control. This means rewarding good biosecurity practices, providing vets and farmers with the tools and data they need to make evidence-based decisions, and recognising the human impact of this devastating disease.

“BVA continues to support a holistic approach to bTB control that utilises all the available tools in the toolbox, underpinned by the latest scientific evidence. In developing our new position, our expert working group reviewed current evidence and engaged widely with a range of stakeholders to set out a roadmap that we hope will guide vets, farmers, and the Government in ongoing efforts to tackle this disease.”

BVA’s new policy also identifies five key research priorities for the next five years, which include a better understanding of the effects of badger vaccination on the incidence of bTB in cattle; evidence to establish the role of cattle faeces in disease transmission; and better understanding of the causes of repeat breakdowns. The top research priority - the development and validation of a cattle vaccine and DIVA (Differentiating Infected from Vaccinated Animals) test- was given an enormous boost last week when Defra, the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government announced that cattle vaccination trials would soon get underway in England and Wales.

Mr Russell added:

“The deployment of a viable cattle vaccine used in combination with a validated DIVA test has the potential to be an absolute game changer in our efforts to control and eradicate bovine tuberculosis and is something that our own expert bTB working group has identified as a key priority.”

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