Why bad­ger culling must re­main a core el­e­ment in TB erad­i­ca­tion drive

Irish Independent - Farming - - FRONT PAGE - Peter Hynes,

One of the most wor­ry­ing com­mit­ments in the new Pro­gramme for Gov­ern­ment is the pro­posal to phase out bad­ger culling as part of the TB pro­gramme.

The very men­tion of a TB out­break will send shiv­ers down the spine of any live­stock farmer.

We certainly know the im­pact on our farm. In 2014 as we geared up for the re­moval of EU quo­tas, we faced into our yearly TB herd test with the usual anx­i­ety as we loaded the crush with the first 10 cows.

“Clear, clear, clear,” said our vet Bren­dan but then we had two TB re­ac­tors in the first row. An hour later, my wife Paula had to drive into the ve­teri­nary office for more brass tags as Bren­dan had run out.

Ev­ery TB re­ac­tor is tagged with a num­bered brass tag iden­ti­fy­ing it for slaugh­ter. That fate­ful day in 2014 when we had 32 re­ac­tors will live with us for­ever. As those cows left the farm for the slaugh­ter­house we stood on the tree-lined drive­way shed­ding tears.

But when the go­ing gets tough, get proac­tive and proac­tive we got with the help of fan­tas­tic De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture vets.

Blood test­ing of many cows com­bined with a bad­ger cull un­der li­cence from the De­part­ment even­tu­ally got us to a point where our herd was TB-free.

The herd has re­mained clear since thanks to this team ap­proach to con­trol­ling the dreaded dis­ease. Bad­ger culling is at the fore­front of that con­trol pro­gramme.

Yet I can see why so many peo­ple are op­posed to bad­ger culling. Culling be­gan in 1989 and be­came main­stream in 2002, with ap­prox­i­mately 110,000 bad­gers culled since

and no huge de­crease in the rate of TB in­fec­tion.

The cur­rent rate is around 4pc na­tion­ally, with hotspot ar­eas which are badly af­fected.

Sci­ence and re­search has evolved since 2002, with vac­cines for bad­gers be­com­ing avail­able. These show prom­ise.

But proceeding with cau­tion has to be a pri­or­ity with such a deadly dis­ease. I re­cently spoke to a De­part­ment vet who has 30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in TB con­trol.

To date in 2020 he has man­aged the li­censed snar­ing of over 300 bad­gers, 100 of which were vac­ci­nated, with the re­main­der culled.

He as­sured me that you will al­ways know when a snared bad­ger needs to be culled as it will show vis­i­ble signs of ill health, so in many ways bad­ger culling en­sures a healthy pop­u­la­tion of bad­gers while tack­ling the bovine TB prob­lem.

EU fund­ing for TB erad­i­ca­tion is di­min­ish­ing as the EU budget must pro­vide for con­trol of other diseases, but it is promis­ing to see the De­part­ment com­mit €1 bil­lion to TB erad­i­ca­tion over the next decade with an am­bi­tious new pro­gramme.

Tri­als are tak­ing place in Kilkenny where bad­gers are be­ing tested for TB prior to be­ing culled or vac­ci­nated. If this sys­tem is to be suc­cess­ful it will re­quire more man­power.

Be­fore vac­ci­nat­ing in any area, the rec­om­men­da­tion is to re­duce bad­ger num­bers to one per 1.5 sq km. Each bad­ger is then mi­cro-chipped, recorded and vac­ci­nated, and a min­i­mum of four to five years is re­quired be­fore im­mu­nity will be achieved due to the fact that off­spring will also need vac­ci­nat­ing.

Com­pen­sa­tion

Com­pen­sa­tion is a con­tentious is­sue for farms, but a solid erad­i­ca­tion pro­gramme has to be the main aim with some in­creased test­ing, re­duced move­ment of live­stock from TB hotspots, along­side con­trolled wildlife man­age­ment.

Once we get to a stage where out­breaks of TB on farms are re­duced, there should be scope to then pos­si­bly look at in­creas­ing com­pen­sa­tion to farms.

With the De­part­ment con­fi­dent it can erad­i­cate TB within the next 10 years, any at­tempt to phase out culling would jeop­ar­dise a key part of the €1bn pro­gramme to fi­nally erad­i­cate this dis­ease.

Car­ri­ers: Bad­ger culling and vac­ci­na­tion is an es­sen­tial el­e­ment in the bat­tle to erad­i­cate bovine TB from the na­tional herd

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