BTB tests years away

News reports that a bovine tuberculosis (bTB) test had been developed in time to stop the badger cull have been quashed by the National Farmers' Union (NFU).

Media reports that a new bTB test developed by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) will be be available before the planned badger culls take place are inaccurate, according to both the NFU and the AHVLA.

Although a new test known as the ‘diva test’ (differentiation of infected from vaccinated animals) was developed by AHVLA in January this year, it is still being evaluated by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and is yet to be approved by the government. The diva test is able to differentiate between a cow that has been merely vaccinated against bTB and one that is actually infected by the disease.

Currently, the only vaccine available is the BCG vaccine, but because it is impossible to distinguish between a vaccinated cow and bTB infected cow, it is currently illegal to vaccinate cattle with the BCG vaccine.

A new TB vaccination is being developed simultaneoulsy with the diva test and both will have to be approved by the EU before they can be used.

However, according to the NFU, mainstream media's reporting of the test has suggested a mass vaccination possibility that remains many years away. In any case, it argues that a vaccination is something that should be used as part of a package of control measures and not as an overall answer.

NFU president Peter Kendall explained that his concerns were that there would be more confusion surrounding what was already a “highly complex” situation. He said: “We need a package of measures to tackle TB and yes, cattle vaccine must be one of them. But as Defra’s chief vet Nigel Gibbens said, cattle vaccine, and the tests and regulations needed to be put it in place across Europe, ‘may take years’. In the meantime, the spread of TB is doubling every nine years.

“TB is one of the main problems facing our dairy and beef farmers today and all of the scientific reports to date tell us that no one measure alone is going to combat TB.”

Kendall also explained that the vaccination alone would not be enough to stop bTB and while no one wanted to cull the badgers, the policy must also include tackling TB in badgers. He said: “We must also remember that studies so far have shown that the cattle vaccine itself is not 100% effective, so on its own can only be part of the solution to tackling TB. In the meantime, do we stand by idly while the disease gets worse, with more cattle being slaughtered and the disease spreading even further in our wildlife?”

A spokesman from the AHVLA told the diva test will differentiate between vaccinated animals and non-vaccinated animals. He also explained that the test itself was currently being tested and had to got through UK licensing and then to the EU for trials, where the law on its use can be changed. He said: “Essentially we are years away from releasing it.”

Kendall added: “I will say again that no-one – not the NFU, nor the farmers involved – wants to kill badgers. But TB must be stopped from making its relentless march across our countryside. Only by using all of the available tools in the box will we begin to get on top of this terrible disease.”


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