NORTH DEVON JOURNAL
QUEEN’S BRIAN MAY LAUNCHES £1 MILLION SOUTH WEST BADGER VACCINATION SCHEME
5 February 2014
Rock star Brian May has launched a campaign to raise £1 million to underwrite five badger vaccination projects in the South West to combat bovine TB ravaging the region. The Queen musician is the frontman for the Badger and Cattle Vaccination Initiative (BACVI), launched in Parliament yesterday to offer an alternative to badger culling, and wants to recruit an army of volunteers to help immunise the animals.
The project has already raised £200,000 through donations from Mr May and other sponsors, including cosmetics firm Lush and animal welfare groups. The initiative will help pay for five-year vaccination schemes already up and running, or about to start, in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucester and Somerset.
The guitar hero, who said badgers spreading the disease is only a small part of the problem, told the Western Morning News he believed many farmers would back the plan as a number are “afraid to come out” in support of vaccination in the face of “hardliners” that view the policy as a “soft option”. But the National Farmers’ Union argued vaccinating badgers would do nothing to bring the disease under control.
The initiative comes as the Government will shortly unveil an independent panel’s report on two “pilot” badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire, which have been criticised for missing their targets. The outcome of the “pilots” is crucial to determining whether culling is abandoned or rolled out to other areas across the region, where bovine TB is most virulent. While the coalition Government supports vaccines – it has contributed funding to pay for the vaccination in an ongoing programme in Penwith in west Cornwall – ministers argue more needs to be done.
At the launch, Mr May told MPs, activists and journalists: “One of the criticisms that has been levelled at those of us who have been trying to save badgers for the last three years is that ‘something has to be done and you are advocating nothing’. Well, we are advocating something very, very positive. Vaccination is, in the end, the only way of eradicating the disease.”
Questioned by the WMN, Mr May said culling was “economically unviable, not supported by the science and ethically unacceptable” – and that vaccination is therefore a “no-brainer”. On whether farmers would back it, he said: “Some of them are afraid to come out because they do get abuse from the hard-liners who give the impression that vaccination is a soft option. But history will show vaccination is the only solution to this problem.”
But Ian Johnson, spokesman for the NFU in the South West, said: “While vaccination may seem like an attractive option and may help, it’s not a universal panacea and will not tackle the problem of bovine TB by itself. Vaccination does nothing for sick badgers and one-in-three have the disease in hotspot areas. Vaccination only works 50% or 60% of the time, and it can only help once you have the disease under control.”
Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives Andrew George welcomed the campaign but warned there was “tremendous nervousness” among farmers. They would require assurances that the volunteers involved were not animal rights activists who would use the opportunity to spy on farm activities, he said.
A Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: “The injectable badger vaccine has significant practical difficulties which mean it is not a viable alternative to culling in high risk areas. “Vaccination won’t cure infected badgers, which will continue to spread the disease. Furthermore, badgers have to be trapped and vaccinated each year which makes vaccination very expensive. We are continuing to invest in cattle vaccination, but this is still many years away from being ready for use, and we cannot afford to wait while TB devastates our beef and dairy industries.”
MAY LAUNCHES BADGER VACCINATION BID
5 February by Press Association
Rock star Brian May has launched a badger vaccination funding appeal as campaigners seek to bolster support for alternatives to a cull. The guitar hero is one of the leading opponents of widely criticised Government trials of killing badgers to stem the spread of TB to cattle.
Now he hopes to recruit donors and volunteers for a drive to prove that vaccines are a viable alternative and persuade farmers to adopt the method. He hopes to tap into public disquiet about the cull which saw more than 300,000 sign his Downing Street website petition urging a halt.
More than £200,000 has already been pledged by Mr[Dr] May and sponsors such as the cosmetics firm Lush, with trials under way in some areas. Rock band Hawkwind – who are playing a charity concert in aid of animal charities this month – have pledged £10,000.
The aim is to generate enough financial backing and volunteers for large-scale five-year programmes across five of the areas worst hit by TB. They are Somerset and Gloucestershire, where pilot culls have been taking place, as well as Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. The musician is among those being trained to trap and inject badgers with the vaccine as part of efforts to reduce the costs.
Vaccination costs around £120 per badger, the Badger and Cattle Vaccination Initiative (BACVI) says, with costs reducing as more volunteers are found. The cost per animal killed in cull trials was estimated at £4,000, and BACVI says the cost just of policing the cull was higher than a vaccination project. The bill for security came in at £2.4 million in the first year of the four-year pilot, or £1,300 per badger killed.
Campaigners warn that despite the failure of the pilots to meet even reduced kill targets, ministers are set to press ahead with wider culls. Farmers and landowners are being asked to prepare applications for licences to kill badgers before an evaluation of the pilots is published, they say.
“One of the criticisms that has been levelled at those of us who have been trying to save badgers for the last three years is that ‘something has to be done and you are advocating nothing’,” May said. “Well we are advocating something very, very positive. It seems that what is being done at the moment is actually making things worse. Vaccination is, in the end, the only way of eradicating the disease. We hope all those people genuinely in search of a solution will put aside their differences to support BACVI.”
He went on: “In theory we have a bit of Government support already because they are going to supply the vaccine. And we hope that in the end, when the IEP (the independent expert panel reviewing the cull pilots) comes in – which we suspect will confirm that the pilots weren’t effective – the Government will start leaning towards vaccination.”
Supporters of vaccination say one of its biggest advantages is that unlike culling, it does not result in infected badgers migrating to other areas. Five years would be sufficient to create “herd immunity”, they say, but trials are needed to provide the evidence that it could be a “silver bullet”.
BACVI is also lobbying for the vaccination of cattle against TB, which is banned under EU law.
Robbie Marsland, UK director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “This should be coupled with strict control on cattle movements and enhanced cattle protection. By combining cattle-based solutions with wildlife vaccination we hope this will stamp out the scourge of bovine TB and protect badgers from needless culls.”
LIberal Democrat MP for St Ives Andrew George welcomed the campaign but warned there was “tremendous nervousness” among farmers. They would require assurances that the volunteers involved were not animal rights activists who would use the opportunity to spy on farm activities, he said.
Robin Hargreaves, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: ”
As the TB strategy recognises, badger vaccination has a key role to play in the reduction and eradication of bovine TB in England and we welcome support for a widespread programme. While use of badger vaccination over a sustained period of time should result in a reduction in the level of infectivity within the badger population, it is important to stress that we don’t yet know what impact it will have on the incidence of bovine TB in cattle. It’s therefore not a case of vaccination being a simple alternative to culling. However, a coordinated programme on this level should contribute to the available scientific evidence and we look forward the results. Any measures to reduce bovine TB in wildlife and cattle must be sustainable and coordinated and during a vaccination programme each badger must be re-injected every year so we have to be realistic about costs and commitment from the outset. Ultimately, we need a combination of tools to tackle the disease in both wildlife and cattle.”