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Farmers 'key' to badger TB trial

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14 July 2009 - BBC News

The attitude of farmers to a study into vaccinating badgers for cattle TB will be crucial in determining its success, the government acknowledges. Next year sees the start of a five-year project looking at how to deliver vaccines to badgers and farmers will be asked for access to their lands. But some farmers suspect vaccination could make things worse.

The government has selected six trial sites in the south and west of England for the Badger Vaccine Deployment Project. The 100 sq km plots are all in places where bovine tuberculosis has been a particular problem, and where infection rates are high.

Last year, about 40,000 cattle were slaughtered in the UK because they were carrying, or were suspected of carrying, the TB bacterium. The government puts the cost to the national purse at more than 80m per year.

Several years' experimentation with the injectable badger vaccine have shown it is safe and effective, government scientists maintain, although full results have not been released. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate is currently assessing the results with a view to deciding whether a commercial licence can be issued. The new study - due to begin in May - is intended primarily to investigate how badgers can best be vaccinated in the wild.

Some opponents of vaccination have claimed that the act of trapping and injecting badgers will disturb their pattern of movements, increasing the risk of contact with cattle; or that it will cause them to shed more bacteria in their faeces. Both of these arguments are rejected by scientists involved in the vaccine study.

Although the study will primarily look at the feasibility of large-scale vaccination, the government also hopes it will produce evidence that vaccination can bring down infection rates in cattle.

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