From his questions asked in parliament, Rob Marris MP has discovered that the development of a tuberculosis vaccine for cattle has been sacrificed in favour of a costly compensation scheme for farmers.
Since 1998 the government has paid out an £341 million1 in compensation to farmers for the slaughter of cattle infected with TB, but has spent only £35 million on research to develop a vaccination and associated diagnostics.2
Rob Marris said: “Prevention is better than cure for both farmer and badger – yet these astonishing figures indicate a skewed set of priorities. Since 1998, government has spent on average £19 million per year in compensation and only £1.9 million on research.3 If the government keeps focussing on compensating farmers at the expense of developing a vaccine, we’ll all end up paying out for evermore.”
The development of a vaccination would help both farmers and badgers – animals which are currently facing the largest ever cull, with the government recently announcing a tripling of the areas where badgers can be culled.
The loss of cattle can be heart-breaking for farmers, and is not a short-term problem. Nor can it be solved through compensation. According to the ‘Farm Crisis Network’, slaughter can have a longer term impact on the growth of a farm, and only one third of farmers said the compensation covered the loss.4
Mr Marris commented: “It is right that there is a compensation scheme for farmers whose cattle are devastated by the spread of TB, but it is wrong that the government spends such a relatively small amount of funding into a viable vaccination. That discrepancy must not continue. There is a clear economic argument to implement a stronger policy of ‘prevention’ (vaccination) rather than the ‘cure’ (compensation) which is costing the taxpayers tens of millions a year.”
Dominic Dyer CEO of the Badger Trust & Policy Adviser Born Free Foundation said:
"Trials in Ethiopia and Mexico have shown that a TB vaccine could be 58-68% effective in preventing the spread of bovine TB in cattle.
“For the past 5 years the government has stated it will trial a TB cattle vaccine in the UK. In 2014 Defra commissioned a consortium including Triveritas UK, scientists from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency and Cambridge University to design field trials in the UK.
“Triveritas, which specialises in undertaking livestock field trials, was to design the trial for the vaccine together with a new diagnostic test for differentiating between infected and immunised cows
“Despite the importance of developing an TB cattle vaccine, Defra announced in 2015 that it had called off the trial on cost grounds.
“This decision causing anger and concern in both the farming and wildlife conservation sectors. However, the government has made no new commitment to move forward with a TB cattle vaccine trial since the 2015 General Election.
“We are now calling on the Defra Secretary of State Andrea Leadson to urgently move forward with a TB cattle vaccine in the UK, as this will provide a highly effective means of lowering the spread of bovine TB in cattle, without having to waste tens of millions of pounds of public money on a scientifically ineffective and cruel badger cull.”
1 George Eustice MP. 2016. Written questions and answers. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-questions-answers/?page=1&max=20&questiontype=AllQuestions&house=commons%2clords&member=1468. [Accessed 3 November 2016].
2 George Eustice MP. 2016. Bovine Tuberculosis: Disease Control. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2016-10-26/50605/. [Accessed 28 October 2016].
3 George Eustice MP to Robert Marris MP, October 19, 2016, Bovine Tuberculosis Letter, DEFRA Ref: MC412912/AD
4 Farming Community Network. 2009. Stress and Loss: A report on the impact of bovine TB on farming families. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.tbfreeengland.co.uk/assets/4200. [Accessed 1 November 2016].