Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Officials 'quietly confident' on badger TB trials

The vaccination of badgers is showing
The vaccination of badgers is showing "encouraging" results
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

A decision is expected later this year on the potential rolling out of a badger TB vaccination strategy nationwide.

British authorities have resumed vaccinating badgers against bovine tuberculosis after the human BCG jab became available again after a global shortage.

A trial vaccination programme here, involving 1,000 animals in six counties, is due to finish next December.

The trial has seen badgers on 5pc of the country's farmland - across Monaghan, Longford, Galway, Tipperary, Cork and Waterford - inoculated against TB.

"The objective of the injection was to evaluate if one could substitute vaccinating badgers for a proportion of the culling we currently do," said the Agriculture Department's head of wildlife, James O'Keeffe.

He said they were "quietly confident" when the injection trials come to a close in December that they would show it would be successful with almost four years of it completed.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said: "My Department is involved in a range of research activities with a view to progressing the development of a vaccination system for badgers. I'm hopeful that this research will be successful and that a vaccination strategy will be a significant element of the national TB control programme. It is anticipated that the results of this research will be available early next year."

Badgers can act as a reservoir for bovine TB and contribute to outbreaks in the cattle population. "At the moment the cull involves us removing 6,000-plus badgers year on year. Last year it was almost 6,200. If we were able to substitute vaccination for culling we might be able to bring it down to 1,500," said Mr O'Keeffe, adding it would be phased in over five years.

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He said where there were serious outbreaks of TB in cattle then culling would have to be deployed to reduce the numbers of infected badgers. Vaccinations would be deployed to stop badgers become injected and acting as a wildlife reservoir for TB.

The cost of vaccinating the badgers is estimated at less than €300 an animal - the actual cost of the vaccine is €10 but it also takes manpower to trap the animal.

A large-scale field trial of the oral vaccine applied as a paste to the badgers tongues found it had a significant protective effect.

"The idea is that in the future you will have a bait that you would leave at badger sets," he said, adding that would be a less costly alternative. However, there isn't a product on the market for that and it would take up to 10-years to pass regulatory checks.

Reactors

The latest TB figures show the average number of reactors per 1,000 tests (APT) show a slight drop to 1.62.

Mr O'Keeffe said the rate of TB is at historically low levels and they were pleased at the rate it was decreasing.

The figures showed west Wicklow still remained a black-spot with a reactor rate of 6.9pc compared to the national level. Mr O'Keeffe said east and west Wicklow had the highest deer population in the country, however, local deer management groups were being facilitated to help curb the rates.

"Only one third of the land is owned by farmers, with Coillte and national parks," he said. "So for farmers controlling deer on their own land in Wicklow isn't sufficient."


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