Cattle TB vaccine a decade away, say Euro chiefs
A VACCINE for cattle to tackle the spread of bovine TB in Gloucestershire will not be available for at least another decade according to officials in Brussels.
Opponents of a planned badger cull to combat the disease have argued for the use of vaccination as an alternative.
But while EU officials have raised the possibility of lifting a ban on a cattle vaccine, they indicate it will not happen within the next 10 years.
A Conservative member of the Commons Environment Select Committee George Eustice has said the cross-party group would investigate the "totally unacceptable" delay.
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Around 26,000 cattle are slaughtered each year as part of TB controls, at an estimated annual cost to the taxpayer of £100 million in compensation.
In the Commons, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg had agreed a "provisional time-table" for "developing a workable cattle vaccine".
Details had been outlined in a letter, including a 'tentative' timeline to 2023.
The Secretary of State said: "It acknowledges the UK's leading role in pressing forward on a cattle vaccine, and for the first time recognises that we are on course to deploy a vaccine.
"The legal and scientific process could take up to 10 years. In the meantime, we will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to check the progress of this terrible disease."
EU legislation outlaws cattle vaccines such as BCG, mainly because of the possibility that an injected animal is not fully protected against infection, and these then cannot be distinguished from healthy beasts.
International validation for tests to differentiate between them is the major sticking point.
In the letter to Mr Paterson, Mr Borg outlined a five-stage process – including reaching a scientific consensus, devising new EU rules and testing the legislation – to ensure the vaccine and test is effective and safe. It has been earmarked to end in 2023.
But Mr Borg added: "I would like to underline that under the current circumstances the timeline provided is to be considered as purely indicative."
Mr Eustice said: "There is no example in the world of TB ever being successfully tackled without also dealing the problem in the wildlife population so, in the short term, we do need to press ahead with pilot culls.
"However, it is totally unacceptable for the licensing of such a vaccine in the EU to take so long and this is an area that the Efra Select Committee of which I am part will be investigating urgently."
Experts say oral vaccinations for badgers are many years away, if at all possible, and an injectable vaccine for badgers – which has been trialled in Gloucestershire – is seen as both costly and impractical.