Despite Daisy’s worries, this is not the case. Farmers, you do have a choice.
My posts recently have been expressing my intense dislike of the slaughter of badgers in the UK in an attempt to limit bovine TB in badgers. My opinions about the cull have not altered in any way and I would ask you to take a peek at the other relevant posts to see what I believe. However, I do think it’s about time to consider the other side of the story.
Whatever my opinion about the cull, bovine TB is a problem which has to be dealt with. I have heard plenty of people saying “Why don’t we just vaccinate the cows?” Others ask about vaccinating badgers to stop the spread from them to cattle (and also to prevent cattle infecting healthy badgers).
Now both of these suggestions seem to be perfectly reasonable, so why isn’t it being done? Well, there are reasons for that. The most successful vaccine available at the moment is BCG. It is not 100% effective in all cattle. At best, the vaccine appears to fully immunise only 50% of cattle, with 25% being given partial immunity and 25% none whatsoever. However, the 25% do not suffer the disease as virulently as would normally be the case. It is not known if the same would apply to badgers.
The cost of vaccination is around £8 a shot (though doubtless this includes some fantastic profit margins on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry). Not only that, but it is only effective for 1 to 2 years. Then there is the problem of testing. The quickfire skin test that is used on cattle shows up positive with vaccinated cattle. So does the more expensive interferon gamma blood test. A modified blood test plus the skin test can tell the difference between TB infection and the effect of the vaccine alone. This all costs money…a lot of it. For 10 million cattle in the UK the vaccination alone costs £80 million pounds. For badgers, the cost is estimated at around £660 per animal. to vaccinate 150,000 badgers would cost £1 million. Culling badgers at the present minimum estimate of £2000 per animal would cost hundreds of millions.
Now, whilst I don’t think it’s fair of DEFRA to assume the same effectiveness in badgers, since no study has ever been carried out, it does seem likely that the vaccine will not be 100% effective. Add to that, the fact that not all badgers will be trapped and vaccinated.
So where does this leave us with respect to cattle and badgers? Well, clearly, there need to be trials done on the effectiveness of the vaccine in badgers, otherwise DEFRA are going to continue to dismiss the idea, based on guesswork. Also, a better test is required that can economically distinguish between vaccinated cattle and infected animals.
Having said all that, the beef industry is worth £2 billion pounds to the UK. Dairy accounted for £3.7 billion in 2012. I said in earlier posts that it looks as if the problem rose sharply in 2002 due to infected cattle being brought in from abroad. That excessive importation will have stopped now and there is every chance that the number of cattle being slaughtered due to the illness will subside back to the level it was pre-2002, ie 5000 per year. Those cattle are worth around £1.5 million, or 0.075% of the market value of the beef sales, or <0.03% of the combined beef and dairy industry value.
I repeat, this is simply not the big problem it is being made out to be.
Farmers in the UK, don’t believe what you are being told by the government. You don’t have to cull badgers: you simply have to maintain your vigilance, as you are at the moment, wait for developments in vaccines for cattle and don’t be tempted to try to get around the rules for moving and selling infected stock. I can’t imagine how soul-destroying it must be to have a herd infected, but culling badgers is not the answer.