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