Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture has described the Irish badger cull as a ‘huge success’ and suggested it was the reason Ireland was making a better job of tackling bovine TB than the UK.
Simon Coveney defended Ireland’s badger cull policy in the Dáil, after he was challenged by Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan to acknowledge badgers have been ‘wrongfully vilified’ in Ireland’s bTB control policy.
Ms O’Sullivan highlighted the results of a four-year study that concluded badgers ‘avoid fields of cattle and farm buildings containing cattle’ and urged Mr Coveney to suspend the cull, which she described as ‘horrific’.
Mr Coveney said Ireland’s badger removal strategy, which has been in place for more than a decade, was developed in response to research demonstrating the eradication of bTB in cattle was ‘not a practicable proposition until the reservoir of infection in badgers was addressed’.
He said it had been found badgers and cattle share localised TB strains and cited a number of studies showing badger removal had a ‘significant beneficial impact on the risk of future breakdowns’, with areas where badgers were not removed at 14 times greater risk than in areas where badgers were removed.
Mr Coveney pointed to the current ‘record low levels’ of TB cattle incidence in Ireland, which has fallen by 40 per cent since 2008.
He said: “It is particularly interesting that the incidence of TB in Northern Ireland, where badger removal is not prioritised, is approximately twice as high as on this side of the Border.”
Later, he added: “This has been a hugely successful programme where we have virtually halved bovine TB in Ireland. We have less bovine TB in Ireland now than at any time since 1954 when records began.
“The UK has not had success in reducing the incidence of bovine TB. I suggest this is partly because it has not been able to take the same approach towards a targeted culling programme where it is aware of a localised bovine TB problem and outbreak.”
Mr Coveney said he wanted ultimately to move to a badger vaccination programme to address bTB spread in wildlife.
“We will do that when we feel we can do it and maintain the approach that we have at the moment, which is driving down TB numbers,” he said.
He insisted the Government could not replace culling with vaccination ‘purely on animal welfare grounds without having negative consequences for the spread of TB’.
Ms O’Sullivan said, even though there are licences to shoot badgers, ‘they are culled in most horrific circumstances’.
“We have seen badgers caught in the trap where they are shot. Poison has been laid. Slurry has been left in some of the traps in order to further intensify the cruelty. This is being carried out under licences issued by the Department,” she said, calling for a ‘more holistic approach’ to the problem.
Mr Coveney replied: “It would be dishonest of me to say that I do not think that the badger targeted cull programme is being done in as humane a way as we can do it.
“My Department endeavours to ensure that the badger culling programme takes place as humanely as possible,” he said.
He said the study referred to by Ms O’Sullivan was ‘ongoing’ and designed to find out how exactly the disease transmission between badgers and cattle takes place, partly to design a viable vaccination programme for badgers.
He said: “The fact that badgers tend to avoid buildings does not mean that they do not transmit disease to cattle. The position is that badgers can and do transmit TB to cattle via faeces, urine or latrines, and strain-typing has shown that badgers and cattle share the same strain of TB which is prevalent in the locality.
“It is also inhumane that we have to slaughter cattle because they have TB when we know that we can get the incidence of TB down.
“What is humane for me is to get TB out of the herd, which is what we are trying to do, and out of the badger population too. In that way, we will not have to target cattle and badgers.”
The Conservative’s election victory paves the way for the further roll out of culling in England, if pledges made by Defra Ministers prior to the election are anything to go by.
While a number of new areas are provisionally ready to go, there is a big question mark over whether any new areas, beyond the pilots in Gloucestershire and Somerset will be licensed in time to start this year.
The NFU is seeking simplification of the rules governing the cull prior to further roll out, which will take time to be finalised.
In Wales plans for a badger cull in the 290sq.km Intensive Action Area of north Pembrokeshire were replaced by a vaccination policy by the current Welsh Labour administration.
See Ireland’s detailed TB statistics here
In Great Britain:
See Great Britain’s detailed TB statistics here