Written answers

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Animal Diseases

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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382. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the ongoing effort to combat bovine TB with particular reference to carriers; the evidence that exists in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12197/23]

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Bovine tuberculosis (TB), caused by infection with Mycobacterium bovis, is a persistent problem in cattle herds in Ireland, resulting in hardship for affected farmers and substantial ongoing national exchequer expenditure. The TB eradication programme underpins the export of dairy and beef products to the value of €9.3 billion in 2022.

The epidemiology of TB is complex and challenging. There are three main sources of infection for cattle, the purchase of infected cattle, the presence of residual (undetected) infection within cattle herds. and wildlife (badgers predominately),The relative importance of these factors varies from herd to herd and all three need to be addressed to eradicate TB, and the national TB eradication programme.

Specifically, on the issue of wildlife, M. bovis was first detected in badgers in Ireland in 1974, although its significance was not fully understood at that stage. In the 1980’s, the East Offaly project provided evidence of the role of badgers in the epidemiology of TB. A large-scale trial over a five-year period from 1997 to 2002 in areas within Counties Donegal, Monaghan, Kilkenny, and Cork showed significant reductions (from two-fold to four-fold) in the incidence of TB in areas where badgers were removed relative to areas where badgers were not removed. In areas with high TB prevalence among cattle herds, the prevalence of TB among badgers has been reported as up to 36%, which compares to 14% among badgers in areas of low TB prevalence in cattle. It has also been established that there is a link between M.Bovis and wild deer in Co. Wicklow. Submissions to the Regional Veterinary Laboratory from other parts of the country show very low levels of M.Bovis in the wild deer population outside of Co. Wicklow. There is no evidence to suggest that M.Bovis is a significant issue in wild deer outside of Co. Wicklow However, the evidence to show that badgers are a reservoir of M. bovis and are implicated in the transmission of TB is irrefutable.

Based on this evidence the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine established a wildlife programme to reduce the density of badgers in areas of high TB prevalence. However, it is acknowledged that culling on its own is not sustainable as a long-term measure, and a vaccination programme has also been integrated into the DAFM Wildlife Programme. Badger vaccination is now an integral part of the Irish TB Eradication Programme. This follows over 15 years of research work using BCG vaccine to prevent tuberculosis infection in badgers, and scientific trials carried out between 2013 and 2017 that show that vaccination is no less effective than culling. Badger vaccination is thus being substituted for continued culling of badgers such that a significant reduction in the numbers of badgers culled can be achieved over the coming years while still maintaining effective control of the risk posed to cattle. The large-scale rollout of badger vaccination commenced in late 2019. Every year more and more of the countryside is designated as vaccination zones. This is reflected in the numbers of badgers captured for vaccination in these zones rising from an initial figure of 1,937 badgers in 2019, to 4,698 badgers in 2020. This figure rose again in 2021 to 6,586 badgers, with a further 7,244 badgers captured for vaccination in 2022


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