A steady increase in bovine TB disease rates during 2022 saw NI end the year with 17,319 cattle removed as reactors at a test, up 21% on 2021 and 35% ahead of the figure for 2020. TB herd incidence finished 2022 at 10.20%, the highest it has been in over 20 years.

On enquiry, a spokesperson from DAERA was unable to say when the latest upward cycle in the disease might end.

“Predicting a trend for TB infection levels has historically been a difficult thing to do. It is therefore difficult to determine if we have reached a peak level of infection,” the spokesperson said.

Back in the early 2000s, the spike in disease rates was mainly put down to disruption to TB testing due to foot-and-mouth disease.


Various rules relating to TB testing were also relaxed in 2020 during COVID-19 lockdowns. However, while there was a brief rise in TB infection levels, the Department spokesperson said it has not been established that the COVID social distancing rules were “a main driver of the current high incidence rate”.

Instead, DAERA believes this latest spike is principally due to cattle to cattle spread, although the spokesperson pointed out that other issues may be driving the high rates including “infection due to wildlife, especially badgers”.

When asked what the Department is going to do to bring the latest situation under control, the spokesperson said they are seeking to progress a range of actions contained within the TB Eradication Strategy published in March 2022. Examples include the use of severe interpretation of test results in confirmed breakdown herds and the expanded use of gamma interferon blood sampling.

“In addition, the Department is advancing with planning for a wildlife intervention, currently subject to judicial review, while seeking to advance other priorities in the strategy. That includes enhanced biosecurity advice and new governance structures so that we can continue to work in partnership with farmers and the farming industry to assist in getting TB under control.”

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