The Irish Government is attributing the dramatic fall to the success of its bovine TB eradication programme, which includes culling around 6,000 badgers each year.
The Department of Agriculture said: “We believe that, while it is difficult to quantify the precise impact of badger culling on the reduction in the incidence of TB, much of the improvement in the TB situation is due to the badger removal programme.”
It says the declining disease levels, which include a 15 per cent drop in 2013, suggests TB eradication in Ireland is now a ‘practicable proposition’.
The Irish approach to TB is often contrasted to the situation in Britain, where the latest figures show a 15 per cent drop in cattle TB slaughterings over the past 12 months but a much more static long-term picture.
Defra Secretary Owen Paterson, who intends to roll out badger culling more widely in England this year, has frequently cited Ireland’s success in tackling TB as proof of the benefits of culling badgers as part of a wider policy to control bTB.
In its statement on its 2013 figures, the Irish Department of Agriculture points to a recent peer-reviewed study, showing that between , 1995 and 2010 the incidence in Ireland fell by 32 per cent (and by a further 20 per cent since).
During the same period studied, incidence increased by 380 per cent in England, by 190 per cent in Wales and by 74 per cent in Northern Ireland.
It also stressed that revalence of TB in Ireland was 0.3 per cent in 2012, compared with 0.66 per cent in Northern Ireland “Significantly, the removal of badgers is not practised in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. In effect, the Department believes that the badger culling programme has brought about a situation where, for the first time since the programme was introduced in the 1950’s, eradication is now a practicable proposition,” it said.
Badger culling is confined to breakdowns where epidemiological investigation has concluded that they are implicated in the breakdown.
Field trials are being undertaken in several counties, involving the vaccination of several hundred badgers over 3 to 4 years.
Success in the field trials will eventually lead to implementation of a vaccination strategy as part of the national TB control programme.
As it will be some years before the benefits of a vaccine can be seen the targeted badger removals will continue in the medium term, the statement said.