Badger culling to continue despite low TB rate

 

THE CULLING of badgers to combat bovine TB is to continue even though the numbers getting the disease are at their lowest since the eradication programme began in the 1950s, said Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

Mr Coveney said while nobody liked culling “we have a responsibility to protect our beef herds, in particular, and our dairy herds”.

The culling programme had played “a significant and positive role” and only took place where there was believed to be a problem, he said.

There are an estimated 80,000 to 90,000 badgers in the State and since 2000 the number of “reactors” – cattle that have failed the mandatory test for bovine TB – has fallen from 40,000 to 18,500.

The Minister told Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan that in Britain, which did not cull badgers now but would begin a pilot project in the autumn, the number of reactors had increased from 6,000 in 1999 to 33,000 in 2010.

Field trials in badger vaccination were under way and, if successful, they would be incorporated in the eradication programme, Mr Coveney said.

But “it will be some years before the trials are completed and targeted badger removals will continue in the medium term”.

Ms O’Sullivan raised the issue during agriculture questions in the Dáil this week, pointing to the divergence between research cited by the Minister and research she had received from the Irish Wildlife Trust, “which shows culling of badgers has little or no effect on the eradication of TB and that it increased levels”.

She pointed to findings that “even if all badgers in the country were removed the same levels of TB would remain”.

Mr Coveney cited research carried out since 1989, including a project in four areas showing an improvement of almost 60 per cent following culling.

Ms O’Sullivan expressed concern about the use of snares, which she said resulted in “extended periods of suffering for badgers, leaving the young unattended”.

She asked how could “we as a humane country justify the use of such a cruel instrument”.

She also spoke of arrests of people involved in badger baiting in Northern Ireland.

The Minister acknowledged the need for a new approach to animal welfare, and said this would be evident from a new Bill he would publish soon.