In our post Damping Down, (archived May 05) we told you of both VLA and Irish trials using BCG tuberculin to 'damp down' infection in badgers.
Our observations then - as now - were that it was potentially difficult to administer the accurate optimum dose orally, and that if cattle had access to the bait, would probably flag them up as Reactors to the skin test, and slaughter at Defra's convenience. Injection was safer, but that involved trapping and with all the problems encountered by Krebs - only about 30 - 50 % of target badgers captured and 57% of traps 'interfered with' and 12% 'disappeared' - was unlikely to yield substansive results.
Also, we explained that any badger vaccine so far tested, only slows down the disease progression to other organs than lungs, so while generalised Tb throughout the body may damp down the spread to cattle via urine, the progression of this dreadful disease through the badger population, continues. And it would seem slightly odd to 'vaccinate' an already infected animal - if not fatal.
But having held back the Exeter University report until post election, on the day it was released, our Ben, Captain Bradshaw threw another red herring from his shoal (well he is Minister for Fisheries) to the waiting farmers.
A Tb vaccine trial.
"A small-scale, 3 year study using BCG vaccine will begin in a South West Tb hotspot in the middle of next year. It's primary purpose will be to gather data to assess the safety of the vaccine for badgers, although this will be a secondary aim. There are instances where this method of administration may be useful as an alternative to culling, for instance in disease hotspots" said Captain Birdseye.
Field trials are necessary before the candidate vaccines can apply for the necessary licensing procedures, and results are not expected before 2009. That's another election then? The intention is that the field trial will take place in or near an abandoned Reactive area of Krebs.
That would be the one where the Wildlife teams didn't turn up Leaving our Matthew 5 with a festering warren of infected badgers, which in turn cost the taxpayer ££ thousands for 300 of his and his neighbour's cattle over 5 long years? And that was where by very small scale muddle and incompetence, not to mention animal activists' interference, Bourne and Co managed to 'increase' bTb in the cattle by 27%? Where heavily infected badgers are seen dead or dying, in broad daylight all over the place. That's where they propose to do this 'trial'?
"Defra plan to seek landowners' permission for this trial which will begin after next spring's closed season" - and cost £1.1 million / per year. Not on my patch you won't Ben. Go and play somewhere else.
With his usual ascerbic wit, Muckspreader in Private Eye, (June 21st) captures our own reaction to this latest attempt at displacement activity - or Defra's 'Smoke and Mirrors' if you prefer.
"Apart from the tacit admission that it is badgers that are the cause of the problem, the rug has already been pulled from under this plan by none other than Defra's favourite Tb 'expert', Professor John Bourne. There has now resurfaced a report from a committee chaired by Bourne as recently as 2003, whish poured withering scorn on the value of vaccinating badgers. At best, said Bourne's report, vaccination could only offer a 70 percent success rate (that's a lot better than the good Professor is achieving with his Kreb's traps - ed) - making it virtually useless."
'Virtually useless' ? With that we would not disagree - but would include the RBCT Krebs' trial as well.
Bourne's report continued "Researchers have been looking for a better vaccine since the 1920's - and failed." The only effective strategy Bourne advised, was a cull.
"Dead badgers", he concluded "don't spread disease".
Absolutely spot on. So why not protect the healthy ones?