Major study exploring attitudes towards cattle and badger vaccination published

A Defra-funded project led by the Countryside and Community Research Institute at University of Gloucestershire and carried out in collaboration with Cardiff University and Kingshay Veterinary group has found that whilst farmers and stakeholders are broadly willing to vaccinate cattle against bovine tuberculosis (TB) where it is affordable and any trade implications are clear, they are not willing to vaccinate badgers.

Farmer workshops were held across England and Wales in areas with varying bovine TB prevalence. Two workshops were held in each area: one on badger vaccination, and the other on cattle vaccination. These workshops were supplemented by interviews with stakeholders across the UK, including vets, auctioneers, retailers, those involved in assurance, regulation and advice, and national and local farmer organisation representatives.

Attitudes towards vaccinating cattle for controlling bovine TB

Farmers and agricultural stakeholders were presented with a range of scenarios, which allowed the research team to explore how a cattle vaccination could be rolled out. These included a mandatory scenario, an individual voluntary scenario, and a scenario where local groups deliver the vaccines.

Professor Damian Maye, lead author of the cattle vaccination report, from the University’s Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), says ‘Farmers and agricultural stakeholders were generally supportive of cattle vaccination, particularly where vaccination does not result in barriers to normal trading. They also stated that they need clear information before they will vaccinate cattle surrounding the efficacy of the vaccine for reducing bovine TB prevalence, the consequences for trading, the costs of the vaccine (including any meat withdrawal period), how flexible the timings of vaccination would be, and how vaccination status of livestock would be recorded and presented.’

Farmers also argued that they would like to be involved in the design of any policy which rolls out cattle vaccination. A mandatory approach to vaccination was broadly seen as the most effective. However, if vaccination were to become mandatory, farmers felt it would be unfair to pay towards vaccination. Read the full cattle vaccination report here.

Attitudes towards vaccinating badgers for controlling bovine TB

Scenarios were shared with participants so that they could hold discussions about which aspects may make vaccination attractive. These scenarios included a government-led approach, a science-led approach, a post-cull approach, and a combined approach, whereby cattle and badger vaccination programmes are delivered simultaneously.

Farmers and agricultural stakeholders rejected the idea of vaccinating badgers as a control method against bovine TB, instead favouring cattle vaccination. Participant responses were overwhelmingly negative towards all four scenarios, with the science-led scenario seen as the least unattractive.

There were several reasons why badger vaccination was not seen as feasible. Firstly, there were strong concerns about how difficult it is to trap badgers, particularly in areas which have previously undertaken culling (due to trap shyness). This view was particularly pronounced in regions which have had badger culls, as farmers there have had direct experiences of trapping badgers. This challenge led to most participants deciding that vaccinating badgers is simply too costly. Secondly, there is a lack of clarity around the extent to which vaccinating badgers will result in protection from bovine TB for cattle. There were also concerns around biosecurity; whilst some farmers were willing to allow volunteers on their land to vaccinate badgers, they reiterated the importance of protecting their livestock from further disease spread. Farmers also felt that they should be able to deliver cattle vaccination and epi-led culling in certain areas alongside badger vaccination to maximise the chances of controlling the disease.

Dr Charlotte Chivers, lead author of the badger vaccination report, also from CCRI, says ‘Farmers do not see badger vaccination as a realistic option for controlling bovine TB. There are, however, some steps that could be taken to gradually increase the likelihood of them accepting this as an approach. Firstly, robust scientific trials should be carried out to build trust in the approach. Secondly, doses should be provided free of charge, with farmers paid for any time spent on delivery. Alternative approaches to trapping badgers in an ethical way should also be sought, as most participants felt that the current approach is extremely inefficient. Lastly, farmers should be given more of a voice in the public sphere so that they feel more empowered; they have strong knowledge of bovine TB but often feel that they aren’t listened to.’ Read the full badger vaccination report here.

Overall, our key recommendation is that if Defra and the Welsh government intend to implement any vaccination strategy for controlling bovine TB, there needs to be a strong information campaign beforehand to ensure that farmers and stakeholders are willing to participate.