NI is already in a very bad place when it comes to TB in both cattle and wildlife, but unless something changes very soon, we are heading for outcomes that will have long-lasting negative impacts on farmers, taxpayers and on our badger population.
As reported in last week’s edition, the latest roadkill figures suggest 27% of badgers in NI have TB. This is a massive 69% increase in disease rate compared to the previous year, and coincides with TB figures in cattle which show in 2022 the number of reactor animals taken off farms was up 20% – the badger and cattle figures are clearly linked.
Research has also highlighted that the test used for TB in dead badgers is not that sensitive, with suggestions the actual disease rate could be twice as high as that reported.
Coupled to that is the current disease incidence in cattle herds that had been free of disease. The annual rate to February 2023 of 10.65% is already the highest we have seen since compulsory testing began in 1959, with reports that it will be up again in March.
As any farmer will know, if you don’t get on top of a disease outbreak early, things quickly get out of control. More new herds are going down with TB, so there are higher risks when buying cattle that you are bringing in infection. And with more large dairy and beef herds operating either total or partially confined systems, there is increased risk of TB spreading through the herd, and putting more disease pressure on wildlife.
Something on this spiral has to change. DAERA has a TB eradication strategy, informed by the best scientists, that includes plans to cull badgers in TB hotspot areas, ahead of a long-term policy of vaccination once disease rates fall. Those against targeted culls are actually damaging the long-term interests of the badger population, not protecting it.
We don’t need any more research, any more uninformed opinions or any more legal challenges. Farmers, conservationists and government need to work together to create a healthy cattle and badger population in NI. The fact that key actions from the strategy remain in limbo is both shameful and utter madness.