Scotland currently has enjoyed officially TB-free Status since September 2009 in recognition of the relatively low and stable incidence of TB found in Scottish herds.
However, the Scottish government, which is involved in funding a UK-wide project to develop a vaccine to control the disease, said that while the status did not mean that there were no occasional sporadic cases, these were at a very low level.
In contrast, over 36,000 cattle in England and Wales were slaughtered in the past year to tackle the disease - which had been almost eradicated in the UK but has been making a comeback since the late 1970s - at an estimated cost of £100m to the taxpayer.
The country’s chief vet, Sheila Voas warned that despite bTB-free status, the disease remained a threat to Scotland’s national herd from cattle brought up from areas of England.
She added that the current mitigation measures of pre and post-movement testing also came at a cost - and meant that the eradication of TB was foremost in the interests of each of the three Great Britain administrations.
“Bovine tuberculosis represents one of the most difficult animal disease challenges we face today,” said Voas in a joint statement with the chief vets of England and Wales.
She said that the ground-breaking field trials, which had just begun, would be welcomed by many farmers who had been greatly impacted by this disease and that the trials represented an important step towards deploying a working cattle vaccine by 2025.
“If successful, the world-leading project could lead to the first ever deployment of a cattle bTB vaccine and DIVA skin test and will be instrumental in turning the tide against this terrible disease which impacts many countries around the world.”
The world’s first clinical field trials of the BCG vaccine and DIVA skin test have been launched on a cattle farm in Hertfordshire, with plans to expand the pilot across England and Wales
The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) which will supervise the trials said that if they proved successful, farmers and vets would take an important step towards being able to vaccinate their animals against the disease, helping to save thousands of cattle every year that would have otherwise been culled to prevent the spread of bTB to other herds.
“The skin test which will accompany the vaccine also represents a major breakthrough by enabling vets to identify cattle that have been vaccinated and those that are infected with the disease – to date this has not been possible,” said a spokesperson.
Control measures for the diseases have also been the source of considerable controversy, especially the role of wildlife – including badgers – which can act as reservoirs and spread the disease between farms.