THE government is to hold field trials of a cattle vaccine to combat bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

It also plans to vaccinate more badgers against the disease and improve testing to intercept bTB

The plans are included in the next stage of its 25 year strategy to eradicate the disease.

A globally significant breakthrough by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, has led to the Government accelerating its work towards the deployment of a cattle vaccine within the next five years.

The commitment is part of the Government’s response to an independent review of its 25 year bTB strategy, led by Prof Sir Charles Godfray.

More than 30,000 cattle are slaughtered each year due to infection from bTB so a cattle vaccination could be a powerful breakthrough to fight the disease.

Independent scientific analysis has shown that badger culling has resulted in significant reductions of 66 per vcent and 37 per cent in the spread of the disease to cattle in the two areas analysed.

However Defra says intensive culls in 57 percent of England’s High-Risk Area, are only one part of its strategy to eradicate the disease by 2038.

As wider preventative measures are introduced it expects to begin to phase out intensive badger culling.

Improvement of the cattle testing regime is also a key component of the strategy to combat bTB. Today’s response makes clear the government’s determination to have more sensitive testing which will intercept the disease earlier and remove it from cattle herds quicker.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "The badger cull has led to a significant reduction in the disease as demonstrated by recent academic research and past studies.

"But no one wants to continue the cull of this protected species indefinitely so, once the weight of disease in wildlife has been addressed, we will accelerate other elements of our strategy including improved diagnostics and cattle vaccination to sustain the downward trajectory of the disease."

The government intends to start deploying badger vaccination in areas where the four-year cull cycle has ended, alongside ongoing surveillance of the disease in badgers in that area.

However, the government will retain the ability to introduce new cull zones where local evidence points to an ongoing role of badgers in maintaining the disease.

The latest statistics on bTB in England show the overall number of new herd incidents of the disease down by nine per cent in the year to November 2019, a ten per cent reduction in the number of herds not officially free of the disease and a four per cent reduction in the total number of animals slaughtered due to the disease.