The Brussels bombshell – We can vaccinate our cows!


See also article MAIL ON SUNDAY (21/10/12):
This cruel badger cull is pointless – and I can prove it, says Queen guitarist Brian May

This is long – apologies – but if you are a farmer, or a minister, or just someone who cares about animals, or how our taxpayers’ money is spent, it will be worth the read, believe me.


At the Conservative Party Convention last week, I had a brief encounter with new DEFRA Minister Owen Paterson. He seemd positively jubilant about the ‘imminent’ badger cull which he is enthusiastically, some would say obsessively, pushing through. I asked him “Surely you would rather be vaccinating cattle than pursuing this seemingly doomed and cruel cull of badgers?” He gave me a condescending smile, “Not a chance!”, he said, “Vaccination of cattle is yeeeears away”, that long and dismissive version of the word ‘Years’ accompanied by long and a expressive push of the palm of his hand into the middle distance, effectively cutting off any further discussion. This dismissal of even the possibility of vaccinating cows is one of the central pillars in the justification of this Government’s policy of killing badgers to control bovine TB in cows. According to the Coalition, in bed with the NFU, this is the only ‘tool in the box’. “Nobody likes killing badgers”, they say, in a comforting tone, “but it’s unavoidable”. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Some people cannot WAIT to get the large-scale killing started. The next sentence will be all about telling us how much money bTB is costing the taxpayer, and how much misery it is causing farmers. This we know, but virtually all the scientists in the field, and now many farmers too, are convinced that this has very little to do with badgers, and in fact we could exterminate badgers from Britain altogether, and there would still be a bTB problem in cows. Many believe that this policy of culling is likely to make the situation worse rather than better.

Culling has also been justified by DEFRA by the fact that it was ‘affordable’. But the Government and the NFU have already manoeuvred themselves into a position where the farmers are being forced to pay for it themselves., and, even before a culling has begun, the costs are rocketing to a figure that may be at least twice what was promised in the beginning.

The ‘Stop The Cull’ petition on the Government’s own website collected 100,000 signatures in record time, entitling Team Badger to secure the first-ever debate in Parliament on this policy. The motion is supported by MPs of every political colour, and has strong and growing support in the House, fuelled by revelations in the Press about the huge flaws in the scientific arguments on which the cull is based.

So why would the NFU, and Cameron and Paterson still be clinging to this discredited and highly unpopular policy? The real reason is probably buried quite deep, connected with the emotional attachment that the Old Money has, to having the right to control every creature on their land. Getting their way on this cull would bolster their claim to be able to destroy buzzards nests, pursue and tear apart foxes and stags with packs of dogs … and generally run amok the way tradition and privilege ‘entitles’ them to. Certainly their arguments are looking more and more emotional and vengeful as time goes on – against creatures which are not guilty of anything but having been cruelly infected with a cow disease.

What they are SAYING as a justification for the cull is “Well, something has to be done. We can’t do nothing. There is no alternative on the horizon. Vaccination is YEARS away”.

Why? Why can we not vaccinate our cows just as we vaccinate our children? What the public have always been told, since long before I was involved, is this:

a) We can’t vaccinate because it’s impossible to distinguish a vaccinated cow from an infected cow. Therefore the cows can’t be exported because the importers won’t risk bringing TB into their country.

b) We can’t vaccinate because the European Parliament WILL NOT ALLOW US TO. Even yesterday [last week] Caroline Spelman – former DEFRA Minister who brought in this cull – told me … ”It would take years to change this – we’d have to go around every member state in Europe begging for a derogation. “


Well, last week, with Gavin Grant, CEO of the RSPCA, and a small delegation from TeamBadger, I visited Brussels to try to find out why Europe would not allow us to vaccinate, and to actively seek a way to fast track a change in the law, which would enable us to vaccinate our cows. We were joined in our preliminary meetings, at our request, by a representative from the NFU, a resident in Brussels.

What we found was in the beginning surprising, and in the end completely shocking. I believe what we discovered is a bomb which will blow the idea of culling badgers out of the water forever.

Our first surprise was that as soon as we walked into the European Parliament building, we were warmly welcomed by MEPs of all parties. Far from having to explain our case, and try to persuade them to back our campaign, they were already committed to the same cause as us, and pleased to see me as a catalyst which might be able to help bring about change. In short, they were about 90 per cent against culling wild animals as a solution to disease control in farm animals, deeming it cruel and ineffective, and 100 per cent in favour of helping us make cattle vaccination in Britain happen.

The next surprise for me was to learn that the European Parliament cannot actually legislate. With the kind help of our MEPs we were then directed to the European Commission – in another building a short drive away in Brussels – to meet the machinery of the Commission – who actually do make the laws which govern Europe, and … us! We were pre-warned that the Commission might listen to us with less sympathy.

But suddenly we were sitting in the office of the Chef de Cabinet for Agriculture, Mr Georg Haeusler. This Chief of Department is the top level at which a case can be represented in Europe.

We asked directly why the EU would not allow us to vaccinate our cows. Mr Haeusler looked at us in surprise and said, “But this is not true. You British are welcome to vaccinate your cows. You would find that it was not possible to sell cows into the mainland of Europe because we would be risking bringing TB into our countries. But in fact you do not export live cows to us anyway. It would be meat and milk and other ‘products’ made from cattle that would be proscribed. But there would be no police descending on you if you began vaccinating tomorrow.“

This takes a moment to absorb, but at a stroke, it destroys the argument for the NEED for culling. What has always been said, of course, is that we cannot afford to lose our trade in derivatives from cattle in Europe; therefore we cannot vaccinate cows. But read on.

The news that the British Government was about to slaughter 70 per cent of badgers in order to try to solve the TB problem was met by the people in the room with polite laughter. “But this is ludicrous. If you seriously believed that badgers were the cause of the problem you’d have to kill them ALL to make a significant advance. And that would clearly be unacceptable in European law, based on maintenance of biodiversity. So you’re on a hiding to nowhere. It’s a futile gesture.” We all sat open-mouthed, I suppose – hearing this from the very last place where we’d have expected to find this entirely logical viewpoint.

Mr Haeusler and his colleagues went on to say that in their view the fact that Britain was the ONLY country in Europe to have a TV problem was not an accident. “You have had lean governments,” Haeusler said.”They have not been willing to spend the money, or take a stand, on implementing all our recommendations.” Over thirty years ago, with no option to vaccinate available, Europe decided to adopt a policy of search and destroy, when TB presented itself. The TB skin test was designed to identify reactors in a herd, indicating that the herd was infected. Policy was to destroy the whole herd. Haeusler says that this was hard and painful to do, but it eliminated the disease in a very short time. No action was taken against wildlife. But at some point, Britain decided to adopt a cheaper option. Instead of eliminating the whole herd when a reactor was found, the British opted for taking out the individual animal only. This is what still happens today. The unfortunate animal is then taken to slaughter, where, very often, heartbreakingly for the farmer, it is discovered too late that the animal was in fact perfectly healthy and NOT infected with TB. This is because the skin test is not reliable. Even multiple testing leaves a margin of error. What is worse is that the cow who WAS infected possibly did not show up in the test. So it remains in the herd. After this breakdown, the herd is effectively ‘closed down’ for a while, which compounds the frustration for farmers. When business returns to normal, it is very common for the situation to recur. The instinctive cry, encouraged by the NFU, is then … “It’s because of those bloody badgers. So kill them”. But in fact, it is no surprise – we have seen that in all probability the herd was never cleansed of infection – because that is virtually impossible without vaccination. The TB micobacteria can also live on in water troughs and in the soil.

The anger of the farmer is directed at the popular scapegoat – the badger – but in fact the farmer should be angry at successive DEFRAs – formerly MAFFs – and successive governments, who allowed this to go on and on. And still they want to pursue this collection of practices which, far from making Britain a shining example to the world, as the NFU would have you believe – far from being effective, has made Britain an acknowledged blackspot in Europe for TB. A badger cull, for the NFU and DEFRA, is a perfect way of refusing to acknowledge that they are constantly failing (in spite of sporadic badger culls over the years), and are trying to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. This is irresponsibility and actually a kind of madness. Are you still angry at the badgers?


Are you still angry at me? For being against a cull? There is a little more detail to this vaccination discussion.


There actually is a line in a directive from The Commission, over 30 years ago, in 1977. Here it is.

COUNCIL DIRECTIVE of 13 December 1977 establishing the Community criteria for national plans for the accelerated eradication of brucellosis, tuberculosis and enzootic leukosis in cattle (78/52/EEC)

CHAPTER III Specific provisions relating to bovine tuberculosis

Article 13

Member States shall ensure that under a plan for the accelerated eradication of tuberculosis: (a) the presence and suspected presence of tuberculosis are compulsorily and immediately notifiable to the competent authority;

(b) the following are prohibited: (i) any therapeutic or desensitizing treatment of tuberculosis;

(ii) anti-tuberculosis vaccination.

There it is. This has been the justification for successive generations of governments and farming executives to say that there was no point in trying to pursue vaccination in cows. Just yesterday [the other day], I resumed the discussion with Mr Haeusler, this time by phone.

I asked him what the significance of this line in the directive was. He said, “This was a stipulation put in because we would not be able to tell which animals were vaccinated, and which were infected, and therefore we would be risking spreading infection.”  I then told him that the DIVA test, designed to do just that, was ready and tested, in a laboratory in Weybridge. Haeusler said, “If you can prove that this test works, there would be no reason for us to ban the import of your the products derived from your cattle.” We said,“But what about that line in the directive? He said, “It would be changed.”

I then remembered the conversations with British advocates of culling. “Surely that would take years and years?” I asked. The reply was, “I know we have reputation for being slow, and sometimes that is justified, but if this case was put to the Commission, supported by letters from the MEPs, the relevant department would, realising the urgency of this request, push it through quickly. It might not be next week, but it is likely to be no more than a few months if the process is begun now. It would be ludicrous for us to stand in the way of such an urgent request. Why would we do that?”

Yeeeears away? I no longer believe it. And this news removes the last possible support for the view that the proposed badger cull is anything more than a desperate attempt to cling to an outmoded, ineffective, and highly destructive way of thinking.

It is time to call off the cull, stop wasting our money, and get on with combating TB properly. We do not need a ‘Pilot Cull’. We need an immediate massive Pilot Vaccination project. The DIVA test is not actually licensed yet, and the vaccine is not perfected. But an experimental scheme could be put in place in the next few months with the double intent of proving the vaccine and the DIVA test, and making an immediate start on solving this awful problem forever.

The first thing we have to do? Stop the cull. Rethink. Regroup. Get a Vaccination Pilot underway NOW. And farming will have the backing of the whole of the population of the UK in doing this. The war of words will be over. And bTB will be for the first time, on the back foot.