At a meeting organised by the Pedigree Cattle Trust, Devon vet Dick Sibley reiterated his view that a cull of badgers in NI will have minimal impact on rates of bovine TB here (see page 8).

His argument effectively backs up all those anti-cull groups who oppose the removal of badgers in all circumstances.

Yet the fact remains that there is a reservoir of TB within the local wildlife population and the clear evidence from both England and the Republic of Ireland that badger culling does lead to reduced incidence of the disease within cattle herds. What is on the table in NI is a targeted cull in TB hotspot areas to be followed by the roll-out of a vaccination programme, ultimately with the aim of having a healthy population of badgers.

It is a plan initially put forward by experts on the TB Strategic Partnership Group in 2016 and ultimately their work formed the basis for the TB eradication strategy published by DAERA in 2022.

There remains no good reason to deviate from what has been proposed.

At the same time, it would be naïve to think that culling badgers in NI is the single issue that is going to solve bovine TB.

In addition, Sibley is right to point to all the inadequacies with the current skin test, which has a very high specificity (most reactors have the disease) but a lower sensitivity (some TB infected animals are not picked up).

But the alternative tests he promotes come at a high cost, both in terms of the actual test itself and also that they often result in a higher rate of false positives. While DAERA might compensate for the value of the animal, there is no compensation for the lost income on farms when productive animals are removed.

The key initial challenge in NI is to get disease rates down in both cattle and wildlife.

We already have a clear plan in place. Once implemented, and assuming we do lower the disease pressure in NI, it will lead to reduced financial strain on the public purse. Ultimately that then opens up the opportunity to look at other TB test options.