Cattle farmers in the Westcountry just don't have the time to wait for a vaccine for bovine tuberculosis, according to shadow farms minister Jim Paice.
The ongoing spread of the disease, which caused the destruction of 40,000 cattle last year, would have to be tackled by dealing with diseased badgers, he insisted.
Mr Paice was speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference and told the WMN that an oral vaccine for badgers would not be available until 2014 – and that was far too long to wait, given the havoc wrought by the disease in beef and dairy farms in hot spots such as the South West.
"We have waited far too long for a conclusion to this dreadful problem and wasted far too much taxpayers' money and got nowhere," he said.
Well he got that bit right.
So how is this little exercise in futility, for which the 'farmers can't wait' coming along?
It was launched in a fanfare which gave the impression that most of the badgers in TB hotspots would be vaccinated against bTB, and that would be that. And £20 million of course, but let that pass.
But that is not strictly true. For a start, the Vaccine Scoping Study is being rolled out in stages. Very slow stages.
In November last year, a PQ submitted by the David Drew, MP received this answer on the progress of our Minister for (some) Animal's Health latest
From what we can see from that answer, of the six 75,000 acre (300 sq km) blocks of land where it is proposed that badgers endemically infected with bTB, are vaccinated against, er ... bTB, only about 33 percent of the land may be available? And of that 25,000 acres (that's 100 sq km )only about a quarter of landowners have signed up, leaving 75 per cent having declined FERA's invitation to this particular party ? (as at November 10th anyway)
You get the gist of where we're going with this?
Now, cage traps and the use of injectible vaccines are proposed until 2014, when an oral version of vaccine, may become available. So having compressed the land areas into much less than was proposed, further reduced by non-participation, how much further can numbers of endemically infected badgers be squeezed within such a trapping programme? And what is the effect on a 'programme' of vaccination that we are told as farmers needs at least 80 per cent coverage to be effective?
We understand that the hope is for contractors to catch between 60-80% of badgers in each target area to vaccinate. So if no other landowners agree to participate, that will mean 15-20% of badgers being vaccinated in the 100 sq kms plot, which itself has already shrunk from the headline 300 sq km or 75,000 acres.
Contractors are now being asked to tender for this work. But from what we can see, it is a complete dogs breakfast and a way apart from the initial headline grabbing figures offered for public consumption. When "badgers will be vaccinated over six 75,000 acre plots", actually equates to "we may get to vaccinate 5 - 7 % of the badgers in that area" someone, somewhere is taking spin to the extreme. And Jim Paice is quite correct to say 'the farmers can't wait'. Neither can the taxpayers.
But from a contractor's point of view as well, that 'someone' is also on a different planet. These people are being asked to tender to trap and vaccinate 'x' number of badgers in an area of land, not yet decided ? And the badger surveying, we understand, will not be in the hands of the contractors tendering for the job, but 'someone else'. Someone who may assess numbers correctly, but may not. And if they do not, then tough.
Both vaccines and cages are to be the responsibility of the contractor, and their purchase, storage and maintenance, together with assessed labour and area to be covered will be the basis of the quotation offered. This is so vague as to be like catching smoke. Especially as by the date tenders have to be submitted, the majority (80 per cent)of surveying will not have been completed.
Security clearance, public liability and insurance for working with a grade 3 pathogen are also to be the responsibility of the contractor, for what is described as a 'one year contract'.
Walking blindfold on this week's ice and snow would be easier. And much safer.
An update to the Fera (Food and Environment Research Agency) badger vaccine project arrived this morning, giving us a little more meat on its skeletal bones.
Today (8th January) was the closing date for the consultation process, on amendments to legislation which will allow lay vaccination of badgers, using BCG.
And a little more detail is given on Fera's timetable for this project.
"During year one (2010) Fera staff will survey and vaccinate up to 100 sq km of the first Glos. zone at Stroud. They will also begin to survey and vaccinate about half (50 sq km) of the second Glos. area, north of Cheltenham. It is on these two areas that contractors will be trained.
Up to 20 sq km of the other four patches, Staffs, Hereford/Worcs and the two in east Devon will also have received visits.
During the second winter, from November to April, Fera will survey the remaining 80 sq km areas of these four blocks, and the remaining 50 sq km of the zone north of Cheltenham. By the end of 2011, all areas will have been surveyed"
So in 24 months time, at the end of 2011, all the six areas will have been surveyed? And of the original much headlined 1800 sq km, (of which 600 sq km they hope might be signed up), "up to 230 sq km" may have been actioned?
No particular urgency then?