The full roll-out of DAERA’s TB eradication strategy published in 2022 is dependent on meaningful action being taken to tackle the disease in wildlife, the new president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said.

“Until we see action on the ground around the wildlife – that has to be first – then we will talk about all the other issues,” William Irvine told the Irish Farmers Journal.

He remains resolute that a targeted cull of badgers in TB hotspot areas of NI must happen to break the “cycle of infection and re-infection” on farms. Once the disease gets down to much lower levels, then NI can look at other options, such as badger vaccination or alternative tests for TB in cattle.

“We have the perfect example of what needs to happen being played out in England. The badger cull has achieved results. We don’t need any more reports, investigations or research,” said Irvine.

Meanwhile, it is not yet known whether DAERA will follow through on proposals to cut the compensation paid for TB reactor animals, starting at 90% of value in 2024/2025 and 75% of value thereafter.

“If TB compensation is cut, I don’t know what our response will be – but I have an across the board mandate to do what is necessary. My predecessor David Brown asked for that at the UFU Executive,” confirmed Irvine.

When pressed on the issue, he said a legal challenge is a “very definite option”.

TB statistics

The latest bovine TB statistics published by DAERA show that the rates of disease remain at historically high levels.

At the end of February 2024, annual herd incidence (the number of new reactor herds out of the total that tested) stood at 10.02%. In the first two months of 2024 a total of 3,139 cattle were removed as reactors at a TB test. That is similar to the 3,007 head from the same two months in 2023, but 36% more than the equivalent figure from 2022.