At the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference on Tuesday, Defra Secretary George Eustice set out clearly his belief that any long-term strategy to deal with TB must start with getting the disease down in wildlife.
Specifically he quoted evidence suggesting that a badger cull in problem areas has delivered reductions in disease incidence in cattle of between 35% and 50%, and in one pilot site, it was over 60%.
Reducing the infection pressure from wildlife has also been part of the approach in the Republic of Ireland, while in NI we have had two expert groups advising DAERA who have both recommended badger culling in TB hotspot areas.
No doubt the preferred option for some within DAERA is to go with the test, vaccinate or remove (TVR) approach
In all cases, with infection pressure down in wildlife, the next stage is to move to vaccination, whether of badgers and/or cattle.
So what is going on in NI? On Monday, current Agriculture Minister Gordon Lyons told MLAs at Stormont that he hoped an “intervention” would take place later this year, but he gave no indication of what that “intervention” would actually be.
No doubt the preferred option for some within DAERA is to go with the test, vaccinate or remove (TVR) approach, which involves testing badgers for TB, vaccinating healthy animals and culling those with the disease. In theory, it is the ideal strategy.
In the meantime, farmers caught in TB outbreaks are disillusioned, drowning in a sea of letters and notices from DAERA
But as highlighted last week, there are serious questions to be asked about the cost, and the impact it would actually have in reducing the number of TB infected badgers in NI.
It was back in 2012 that former Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill took the easy option by instigating work on TVR. After a five-year study, it is only now that results are being published. The research has produced some interesting data, but nearly 10 years later the exact same issues remain.
In the meantime, farmers caught in TB outbreaks are disillusioned, drowning in a sea of letters and notices from DAERA. A very limited badger cull as a trade-off for cuts to reactor compensation, more testing and more controls is not tenable.