MPs have hit out at the government for not being clear enough about the role vaccination could play in the fight against bovine tuberculosis.
“Debate on this subject has been characterised by lack of clarity leading to poor public understanding. The government must share a great deal of blame for this,” the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) committee said in a report published ahead of today’s opposition debate on the badger cull in the House of Commons.
“The circumstances in which it might be used, the precise objectives for applying it and levels of protection that make the vaccine worthwhile all need careful consideration”
Anne McIntosh, Efra chair
It said although progress to develop vaccines was being made and the government was right to invest in vaccination research, it was also the case that vaccination was “expensive, offers no guarantee of protection and will provide little benefit in the immediate future”.
Work on cattle vaccination needed to be sped up and the government should publish its own timetable for use of a vaccine, underpinned by “robust cost-benefit analysis”, Efra said. But even then, “this vaccine will be no magic bullet”, committee chair Anne McIntosh warned. “The circumstances in which it might be used, the precise objectives for applying it and levels of protection that make the vaccine worthwhile all need careful consideration.”
Meanwhile, vaccinating badgers was also fraught with challenges: an injectable vaccine is available, “but there are many unknowns to overcome if it is to be viable, and it will be expensive,” Efra said.
An oral vaccine for badgers was likely to be cheaper and more practical, and presented “the most likely way to create a healthy badger population”, but would not be available for some time.
Efra also urged the government to improve cattle testing, as the skin tests that are used at the moment are too unreliable. “It is frustrating to hear government officials acknowledge that the current testing regime misses infectious cattle when the gamma interferon test, a blood test of greater sensitivity, catches the disease earlier. Despite the cost, the government must explore whether we can use this test more widely to bear down on the disease.”
The badger cull licences for two trial areas in Somerset and Gloucestershire officially came into force on Saturday (1 June) but culling is not expected to commence until later this summer. MPs are voting today on whether to put a stop to the cull, after Labour tabled an opposition day debate.