Dáil debates

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Other Questions

Bovine Disease Controls

10:40 am

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. She and I have spoken about badgers many times and I know where she is coming from.

The badger removal strategy, which has been part of our TB eradication programme for some years, has been developed in response to research which has demonstrated that the eradication of the disease in cattle is not a practicable proposition until the reservoir of infection in badgers, with which it has also been found they share localised TB strains, is addressed. This is based on a number of studies which showed that badger removal had a significant beneficial impact on the risk of future breakdowns, with areas where badgers were not removed being some 14 times at greater risk than in areas where badgers were removed.

It is also notable that there has been a significant improvement in the disease situation in Ireland both in the cattle and badger populations since the badger removal programme was put on a more structured footing in 2004. The incidence of TB in cattle has fallen by almost 40% since 2008 and is currently at record low levels. 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.

The study referred to by the Deputy is ongoing and is designed to find out how exactly the disease transmission between badgers and cattle takes place with a view to building up a comprehensive picture of badger movements and helping to design a viable vaccination programme for badgers, which is my Department’s preferred way of addressing the issue, if we can make it work. 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. Apart from this, research has shown that, as I have stated above, the removal of badgers from a locality has resulted in a significant reduction in the incidence of TB in cattle.

My Department endeavours to ensure that the badger culling programme takes place as humanely as possible. The restraints used in the capture of badgers are approved under section 34 of the Wildlife Act 1976 and research conducted within UCD has shown that damage or injury to captured badgers is minimal and is lower than with other capture methodologies. The badger removal programme is based on research, is conducted humanely and only to the extent where it has been found to assist in reducing disease levels and, through the evidence of the sustained reductions in disease levels, both in cattle and badgers, has demonstrated its effectiveness. I am confident it can be replaced by a badger vaccination programme in due course and, as far as I am concerned, the sooner the better but I need to do it on the basis of science.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.