Vaccinating cows against TB currently banned under EU law because there is now way to distinguish them from infected cows
- Controversial pilot badger cull set to begin within the next fortnight in Gloucestershire and Somerset
- Campaigners have vowed to disrupt the killings, and police suspect the opposition to the cull has been infiltrated by violent extremists
By DAMIEN GAYLE
Researchers from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey, have found a test that is able to distinguish infected cows and cows that have been immunised.
Currently vaccinating cows against bovine TB is subject to an EU ban because there's current diagnostic tests are unable to pick out an inoculated cow from one actually carrying the virus.
Disease carrier? Badgers are set to be culled in their tens of thousands because of suspected links to the spread of bovine tuberculosis - but a new breakthrough could halt the killings of the protected species
Cows that are healthy but have been given the vaccine as a result appear infected, meaning they cannot be reliably sold or traded overseas. But now a British team have developed what is called a 'diva' (differentiation of infected from vaccinated animals) test which can show the distinction.
Used in conjunction with a new cattle vaccine that is being simultaneously developed, the test could enable the government to ask the EU for the law to be changed - potentially halting further planned badger culls.
Controlling TB in cattle has cost the taxpayer £500million in the past decade, and costs could spiral to £1billion over the next ten years without action, according to the Department for Rural Affairs.
However, the decision has angered animal charities which prefer a vaccination programme for badgers or cattle - and hardcore animal rights activists have vowed to take action to stop the exterminations.
An effective new TB vaccine for cows and the test to determine their immunity to the disease could save the badgers, but they must first be validated by regulatory agencies. That process, which has to happen before EU law could be altered, 'may take years', said government Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens.
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'We're determined to push this through,' Mr Gibbens told the Independent. 'But to get the vaccine and the test sorted, and a change in EU law, is some years away. I really would like to say we could accelerate this whole process, but I think "years" is right.'
In the meantime badger culls, which are overwhelmingly backed by farmers but vehemently opposed by animal rights campaigners, are set to begin in the next fortnight in pilot areas in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
Operating at night, with bait laid nearby to entice these notoriously shy creatures, marksmen will use .22 calibre rifles and night-sights to kill at least 3,000 creatures, or 70 per cent of the local population.
The hope is that this pilot, if shown to stop the spread of TB in cattle, will be extended across England over the next four years, leading to more than a third of the estimated 300,000 badger population being exterminated.
However campaigners argue there is no scientific evidence it would work. A ten-year study commissioned by Defra found a cull would make ‘no meaningful contribution’ to the disease, and could make the problem worse by scaring and dispersing them.
And with public sentiment against the cull and a string of celebrities registering their opposition, it will not take place without a fight. Police also suspect that violent extremists involved in previous acts of violence and firebombings are set to hijack the campaign against the cull.
‘Everything is fair game,’ one animal rights campaigner warned the Mail On Sunday earlier this month. ‘We’ve torn up all the stuff about peaceful protests. We’ve got people coming here from around the world. This is going to be huge.’
Celebrities are raising the profile of the campaign against the cull. Stephen Fry, Dame Judi Dench, Joanna Lumley and Jilly Cooper are calling for it to be postponed until a ruling has been made by the European courts on whether the Government is acting illegally in allowing the cull of a protected species.
And the RSPCA is among campaigning groups which have predicted that shoppers will to refuse to buy dairy products sourced from farms where culling is taking place.
The charity said that while it is not calling for a boycott, consumers will vote with their feet. Those opposed to planned cull of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset may also choose not to holiday there.
Gavin Grant, the RSPCA’s chief executive, said: ‘Those who care will not want to visit areas or buy milk from farms soaked in badgers’ blood
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2214442/British-vaccine-breakthrough-save-cows-TB-end-controversial-badger-culls.html#ixzz28i6aQqIi
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