The next step towards the eradication of bovine TB in NI will require “massive sacrifices” by both farmers and wildlife groups, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has acknowledged.
Launching an eight-week consultation on the DAERA proposals at Greenmount on Friday, Minister Poots said that continuing with the current policy was not an option.
He described the DAERA proposals as a potential “game-changer” in the fight against the disease.
Those proposals include changes in how reactor animals are valued, with DAERA favouring a cap on individual animal compensation of £5,000, reducing the rate of compensation by 10% in the first year of a new policy and by 25% from the second year onwards.
That would effectively bring TB compensation in line with other diseases such as brucellosis, where a 75% compensation rate has applied for a number of years.
The aim is to strike a balance between reasonable compensation, while encouraging farmers to take all reasonable steps to prevent disease
Based on 2019-20 data, these changes would save the Department nearly £5m in TB reactor costs.
The aim is to strike a balance between reasonable compensation, while encouraging farmers to take all reasonable steps to prevent disease, the DAERA document states.
On the issue of badger culling, the DAERA consultation is clear that “some form of intervention is necessary to break the cycle of infection transmission between badgers and cattle”.
Having explored various options, including using the test-vaccinate-remove (TVR) approach, where only diseased badgers are culled, the favoured policy is a non-selective cull mainly using controlled shooting (as in England).
While there is no definitive time period for this work, a business case underlying the proposed policy assumes there will be seven years of culling, which will pave the way for vaccination-only across the next eight years.
Free-shooting is much cheaper to deliver than either capturing badgers in cages or a restraint trap
The DAERA analysis clearly highlights that free-shooting is much cheaper to deliver than either capturing badgers in cages or a restraint trap, as would be required if implementing TVR.
There are also big savings if a farmer-led company undertakes the cull as opposed to either DAERA officials or a private company under contract to DAERA.
As a result, the Department proposes that this expense falls back on to farmers.
The estimated cost over seven years across a 1,200km2 area (about half the size of Co Down) is around £14m.
However, it will not be a free-for-all when it comes to culling badgers. Instead, the Department will determine if an area is suitable for intervention work.
Commenting on the proposals, UFU president Victor Chestnutt described the strategy from the Department as “long overdue” and a “step in the right direction”.
“The UFU will consider the document in detail and we will provide our view in due course,” he said.
The consultation closes to responses on 10 September 2021.