ANALYSIS - The central role wildlife plays in bovine tuberculosis has been reemphasised by a publication from Europe’s TB hotspot this week.
The Strategy for achieving Officially Bovine Tuberculosis Free status for England includes a continuation of trial culls to control badger populations, as well as presenting a varied range of coordinated measures to eradicate the disease.
Along with a disease free target date of 2038, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson pledged £24.6 million for cattle and badger vaccine development.
And though a licensed cattle vaccine is years away, Mr Paterson said badger vaccination efficiency could be improved with oral dosing, although no suitable candidate drug has been taken to authorisation stages.
The report detailed a strategy heavily influenced by ‘vital lessons’ picked up by Mr Paterson on educational visits to see other TB eradication schemes.
He underlined the importance of a TB programme which tackled the primary wildlife reservoir, cautioning that the government scheme would fail without actively tackling TB in badgers.
Having consulted veterinary experts and wildlife modelling, Mr Paterson concluded: “One would expect culling to be more effective than a badger vaccination programme.”
But the disease burden is not restricted to badgers alone, with the report acknowledging the importance of addressing the disease in secondary species like deer, camelids and goats.
This is not lost on Irish scientists trying to unravel localised TB problems who are realising the extent of the role Sika and Red Deer could be playing in maintaining the disease.
The issue came into focus earlier this spring when the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association called on the government to address TB in deer.
This followed the Irish Department of Agriculture’s position that deer are not a significant problem.
And while this represents problems domestically, English policy has been able to learn a great deal from Irish TB control.
Further afield, water buffalo in Australia, white-tailed deer in Michigan, and brush-tail possum in New Zealand are all examples of successful TB schemes that informed English strategy.
Australia has been TB free since 1997 and TB in Michigan has plummeted 60 per cent since the mid-1990’s.
Moreover, New Zealand's infected herds reduced 25 fold from the mid-1990's to just 66 in 2012.
After reviewing data and eradication programmes overseas, Mr Paterson said: "My goal is to move to a position whereby we have the tools to enable us to deploy a targeted approach, identifying and removing only TB-infected badgers either at individual or sett level.
"In the meantime we will not sit on our hands and let the problem get worse."
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