MP's fury at ten-year wait for vaccine to control TB
A cattle vaccine to halt the march of tuberculosis ravaging Westcountry herds will not be available until 2023 at the earliest, EU officials have confirmed.
Critics of the Government's plan to cull badgers to tackle bovine TB have long demanded vaccination be deployed instead.
While officials in Brussels have indicated there is the prospect of lifting an EU ban on a cattle vaccine, they suggest it will not happen within the next ten years.
Cornwall MP George Eustice, who serves on the environment select committee of MPs, said the cross-party group would investigate the "totally unacceptable" delay.
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The disease leads to 25,000 sick cattle being slaughtered a year, principally in the rural South West where tuberculosis in cattle is rife, leaving farmers facing misery and hardship and the taxpayer having to pay compensation heading towards £1 billion.
In the Commons yesterday, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg had agreed a "provisional time-table" for "developing a workable cattle vaccine".
He said the commissioner "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".
He added: "The legal and scientific process could take up to ten 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 prohibits cattle vaccines such as BCG, chiefly because of problems in distinguishing sick livestock from healthy cattle. International validation for tests to differentiate between them is the major sticking point.
In a letter to Mr Paterson, placed in the House of Commons library yesterday, 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.
Mr Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, 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.