Bovine TB vaccination

Written evidence submitted by the RSPB

Summary

The postponement of the pilot badger culls is an opportunity to reconsider the use of the Injectable badger vaccine in combating bovine TB.

Badger vaccination has strong public support and is a tool that is available now. Recent research suggests that badger vaccination could play a role in bearing down on bovine TB.

The Government needs to set out the most effective strategic role for badger vaccination and actively promote and encourage its use.

Government should clarify its aims for the health of badgers and badger populations.

The Government should set out a clear programme of action for the development, licensing and deployment of cattle vaccination.

Introduction

1.1 The RSPB is Europe’s largest wildlife charity with over one million members, with more than 920,000 of them living in England. The Society manages one of the largest conservation estates in the UK, covering more than 55,000 hectares in England.

1.2 Livestock grazing is an important component of the RSPB’s land management with about 8,600 cattle on our nature reserves in England.

1.3 The RSPB’s vision is for sustainable systems of farming that produce adequate supplies of safe, healthy food; protect the natural resources of soil, air and water that farming depends on; help to protect and enhance wildlife and habitats; provide jobs in rural areas and contribute to a diverse rural economy.

1.4 The RSPB is sympathetic to concerns within the farming community over the economic and social impacts of bovine TB. Bovine TB is an important disease that needs to be addressed. It is also clear that the disease reservoir in wildlife is contributing, at least in part, to the problem. We recognise the costs to the industry from this disease but also to the taxpayer through the testing regime and compensation. There is considerable public interest in this issue and this must be properly taken into account in determining future policy.

1.5 We welcome the opportunity to comment on the role of vaccination in addressing bovine TB. We believe that the postponement of the proposed pilot badger culls should be used as an opportunity to properly re-examine the potential role of vaccination, including specifically the use of the injectable badger vaccine.

The role of vaccination in bovine TB control

2.1 The coalition Government is committed to pursuing pilot culls of badgers as its key measure to address the bovine TB reservoir in wildlife [1] . When considering the killing of native wildlife the Government should consider, very carefully, whether there are other satisfactory solutions as part of its commitments under the Bern Convention.

2.2 The Government’s 2011 policy statement concluded ‘we do not consider that either onfarm

biosecurity or injectable vaccination of badgers alone are sufficiently satisfactory alternatives to culling’ [2] . In view of new information on the benefits of badger vaccination and the deepening questions over the practicality of culling we believe that the Government should reconsider the role of badger vaccination and enhanced biosecurity in the control of bovine TB.

Using every tool in the tool box

3.1 We are concerned that the Government has been unduly negative about the potential role of badger vaccination in contrast to an apparent eagerness to pursue a badger cull. Minister of State David Heath MP has described the use of the injectable badger vaccine as ‘not realistic’ [3] . It is not clear whether he was referring to cost or practicality. However, impressive progress in 2012 by the Government’s own agency, FERA, in vaccinating 998 badgers over the 100km2 Stroud badger vaccine deployment project area [4] , the vaccination of over 100 badgers on the National Trust’s Killerton Estate [5] in Devon and the Welsh Assembly Government’s progress in vaccinating 1400 badgers [6] in the first year of Intensive Action Area programme in Pembrokeshire does not suggest that vaccinating badgers on a significant scale is impractical.

3.2 It is not the case that ‘an injectable vaccine requires injecting every badger every year’ [7] . A vaccine only needs to be administered to enough of the population to encourage herd immunity. It is encouraging that recently published results of research into badger vaccination [8] showed that the risk of non-vaccinated badger cubs testing positive for TB was reduced by almost 80 per cent when more than a third of badgers in their group had been vaccinated. This

is an indirect positive impact of vaccination that the researchers put down to a herd immunity effect.

3.3 We do not suggest that the injectable badger vaccine is a ‘silver bullet’ or that it will be cost effective for use across the entire area affected by bovine TB, but the same applies to culling. However, we do believe that the Government should give urgent consideration to how badger vaccination could be targeted and co-ordinated to have maximum effect. The Government has stated repeatedly that it will ‘use every tool in the box to bear down on bovine TB’ [9] To date, the Government appears to have left the injectable badger vaccine in the tool box largely unused.

3.4 The badger vaccine has been available for use since 2010 but 5 of the six planned badger vaccine deployment projects were cancelled by the incoming coalition Government. Although initially established to test the deployment of vaccination and the training of lay vaccinators, if these projects had been continued we would, by the end of 2013, have 6 centres where four years of vaccination would have had a chance to bear down on bovine TB. We believe this represents a missed opportunity as well as giving a very negative message about the value of vaccination.


Encouraging vaccination

4.1 We consider that the role of badger vaccination alongside culling has been underplayed and inadequately promoted. Modelling work on badger control strategies [10] suggested that culling would be more effective in reducing bTB cattle outbreaks if it was combined with vaccination in the peripheral ring. However, the approach adopted for the two pilot culls leaves badger vaccination as an optional component. We welcome the provision by Government of a fund of £250,000 to assist with vaccination in and adjacent to the pilot projects but we are surprised at the apparent lack of promotion of this particular component of the toolbox.

4.2 The RSPB owns and manages a small woodland nature reserve, Highnam Woods, which we believe* is adjacent to the West Gloucestershire pilot badger cull area. (*Due to the secrecy surrounding the exact boundaries of the pilot culls it has proved difficult to determine precisely how far this land is from the edge of the pilot cull but it appears likely that the reserve is within 2 km of the pilot cull). At no stage during the development of the pilot cull were we approached by either the Government or the company organising the cull and encouraged to vaccinate the badgers on our land.

4.3 The research on badger culling shows that it increases the risk of cattle TB outbreaks in areas around the cull zone due to perturbation. The RSPB believes that the most effective contribution we could make to mitigating this risk to neighbouring farmers and the most positive step we can take for the health of badgers at Highnam Woods nature reserve is to vaccinate the badgers on this nature reserve. We therefore initiated a badger vaccination programme at this site in the autumn of 2012 and this will be continued in 2013. This small project is the current extent of our direct involvement in badger vaccination. We do not own or manage land within or adjacent to the proposed West Somerset Pilot Cull area. However, the RSPB would consider further contribution to badger vaccination were any of our other land holdings part of a co-ordinated vaccination programme.

Clarifying strategy and policy

5.1 We believe that the Government has failed to reflect or tap into the high level of public support for vaccination. 92% of the responses to the Government’s 2010 consultation on bovine TB and a badger control policy [11] supported badger vaccination whereas 68% of responses were opposed to culling. Public opposition to badger culling has probably grown since 2010. In addition, it is clear that a significant number of leading scientists do not support the Government’s culling proposals [12] . We therefore believe that the Government should rethink its strategy and in particular the role that vaccination could play in addressing bovine TB.

5.2 Badger vaccination has several advantages over culling. It is unlikely to be subject to public opposition/disruption. It does not result in perturbation of the badger population and therefore does not risk making bovine TB worse. Vaccination does not need to undertaken in a highly synchronised way. We believe this latter point is a significant issue. The pilot culls were postponed when it was apparent that there were not enough trained marksmen to carry out the culls in the allotted 6 week period. We remain concerned that 6 weeks is a significantly longer period than was used in most of the scientific trials and we do not believe that this culling period is supported by the available science. Even a six week window can be significantly

affected by unsuitable weather. In contrast, a team of trained vaccinators could work systematically across an area during the spring, summer and autumn.

5.3 Senior Government politicians have repeatedly suggested that policy is aimed at delivering healthy badgers as well as healthy cattle [13] . We believe that the Government should be asked to clarify its objectives in relation to badgers and explain the science behind its current policy. We would agree that it should be an aim of policy to ensure that badgers and badger populations are healthy. We would however question whether there is any scientific evidence that culling, as currently proposed by Government, will improve badger health. The evidence from the Randomised Badger Control Trials showed that the prevalence of bovine TB in the remaining badger population increased following culling. We believe that consideration should be given to the relative effectiveness of culling or vaccination in delivering healthy badgers.

5.4 We believe that consideration needs to be given to the role of vaccination in relation to the pilot culls, particularly if the Government’s policy is to improve badger health. The current proposals are for culling in the pilot areas to last for 4 years. During and at the end of this period badgers from the surrounding areas will colonise these culling zones. If these culls are pursued how will it be ensured that those badgers that re-colonise are TB free, unless through co-ordinated vaccination?

Cattle Vaccination

6.1 We have focused our response on badger vaccination as this is the vaccination tool that is currently available. Eradicating bovine TB in cattle (and in badgers) is unlikely to be achievable unless and until a cattle vaccine and a DIVA test is developed and cleared for use.

The government should set out a clear timetable of action for achieving this.

January 2013


[1] Badger cull to proceed. Defra press release 23 October 2012. http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2012/10/23/badger-cull/

[2] The Government’s policy on bovine TB and badger control in England. Defra December 2011.

[2] http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/pb13691-bovinetb-policy-statement.pdf

[3] Farmers Guardian 25 September 2012 http://www.farmersguardian.com/home/livestock/new-farming-minister-insists-badger-cullwill-go-ahead/49932.article

[4] http://www.fera.defra.gov.uk/wildlife/ecologyManagement/bvdp/index.cfm

[5] In evidence to Northern Ireland Assembly Review into Bovine Tuberculosis http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Assembly-Business/Committees/Agriculture-and-Rural-Development/Reports/Review-into-Bovine-Tuberculosis/

[6] WAG press release 28 November 2012

[6] http://wales.gov.uk/newsroom/environmentandcountryside/2012/121128badgervaccination/?lang=en

[7] Secretary of State, Owen Paterson MP, 23 October 2012, Hansard Col 843

[8] Carter SP, Chambers MA, Rushton SP, Shirley MDF, Schuchert P, et al. (2012) BCG Vaccination Reduces Risk of Tuberculosis

[8] Infection in Vaccinated Badgers and Unvaccinated Badger Cubs. PLoS ONE 7(12): e49833. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049833

[9] e.g. Minister of State, David Heath MP during Backbench debate 25 October 2012, Hansard Col. 1177.

[9]

[10] Comparing badger (Mele meles) control Strategies for reducing bovine bTB in cattle in England. FERA November 2010.

[11] http://archive.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/tb-control-measures/bovinetb-summary-responses-110719.pdf

[12] http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2012/oct/14/letters-observer?newsfeed=true

[13] E.g. ‘We want to see healthy wildlife—healthy badgers in this case—living alongside healthy cattle’. Secretary of State Owen Paterson MP, Hansard 23 October 2012, Col 847

Prepared 1st February 2013