The Department of Agriculture must reconsider prioritising badger vaccination over culling as the vaccination programme coincides with increasing TB numbers, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) has said.

ICSA animal health and welfare chair Hugh Farrell said that at the TB forum there is a constant focus on asking farmers to do more, while at the same time the Department of Agriculture is continuing to fail farmers.

“A recent peer-reviewed scientific analysis of the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) badger control policy in England has revealed a 56% fall in the herd incidence rate of TB by following a badger culling policy.

"If badger culling in the UK can have such a significant impact on TB levels, we must seriously question the scientific advice [the] ICSA and other farm organisations are receiving at the TB forum, where badger vaccination is heavily prioritised over culling – despite reactor numbers here going up, not down," he said.

Reactor numbers

The 56% drop in herd incidence as result of badger culling amounts to an overall drop of 15% in reactor numbers in England in the 12 months to September 2023.

This, he added, is in contrast with Wales, where no culling programme exists and reactor numbers increased by 2%.

“It is patently clear from this study that culling badgers is vital when it comes to reducing the levels of bovine TB. It is also patently clear that while the Department here has reduced culling in favour of vaccination that our TB numbers have gone up.”

Farrell was also critical of Professor Simon More of the TB forum’s scientific working group who, he said, spoke on RTÉ’s Countrywide this week about the sources of bovine TB.

"Professor More said 15% comes from what he called residual infection in cattle that have tested negative; 15% from cattle movements; 15% from TB bacteria in the environment; 15% from wildlife - particularly badgers; and 40% from an undetermined source or sources," Farrell claimed.

Deer factor

"The focus on cattle is not sufficient. There seems to be a determination to avoid further research into deer factor in TB spread. It’s astonishing that they accept deer is a problem in Wicklow, but assume lack of research and data in the rest of the country regarding deer is proof that no link exists.

"It’s just not good enough to avert your gaze from lack of effort in researching deer beyond Wicklow," Farrell argued.

Department of Agriculture figures indicate, Farrell said, that of the more than 50,000 cattle that were post-movement tested, there were just 101 reactors and 19 were inconclusive.

The ICSA committee chair questioned whether this additional testing and the cost associated is warranted given the numbers being identified in this way are so low.

“It is also worth noting that with the badger vaccination programme, there is no way of knowing if the badgers being vaccinated are infected with TB, as they do not test badgers in advance of vaccination.

"Nor is there any way of knowing what percentage of badgers are vaccinated. Yes, they can tell us the numbers vaccinated, but not what percentage of badgers that figure represents in any given area," he said.


Science, Farrells argued, is letting farmers down when it comes to TB, highlighting that the skin test is only 70% to 80% accurate.

"Reactors are not routinely examined postmortem to confirm or deny the presence of TB. The source of infection for any given breakdown is extremely difficult to ascertain. The list goes on. We need to focus on strategies that are proven to yield tangible results," he said.