New proposals designed to be the first steps in a plan to eradicate bovine TB in Northern Ireland (NI) by 2051 have been launched by Northern Ireland agriculture minister Edwin Poots.
The proposals include applying a cap on reactor compensation at a maximum of £5,000 (€5,750) and gradually introducing cuts to payments for all reactor animals.
In the first year of the new policy, the value put on a reactor animal will be cut by 10%, and from year two onwards, it will be a 25% reduction.
The changes, which would save £5m (€5.75m) annually out of a total cost of the NI TB programme, estimated at around £40m (€46m) per year, are also designed to encourage farmers to do more to keep TB out of their herds.
The other controversial element of the plan is badger culling, which to date has not been allowed in NI.
The favoured approach is to replicate a model from England of non-selective controlled shooting of free-roaming badgers in TB hotspot areas.
The cost would fall to farmers, with initial estimates that over a seven-year period across an area of 1,200km2 it would come to £14m (€16m).
Culling will only be done in “geographically defined areas” where there are high levels of TB in cattle and badgers, and physical disease barriers such as rivers or major roads.
Analysis suggests that only around 12% of the farmed land area in NI would meet the criteria for a badger cull.
A badger vaccination policy will also be rolled out after a cull. Launching the TB consultation last Friday, Minister Poots described the proposals as a potential “game-changer” in the fight against the disease.
With a herd incidence of TB nearing 9%, NI has the highest rates of the disease across these islands.