With plans for a new bovine TB eradication strategy due to be published in the coming days, it will be a surprise if the Department deviates that much from the advice paper published by the TB Eradication Partnership (TBEP) in June 2019.
Chaired by Sean Hogan and with five other members from a veterinary, farming and environmental background, the TBEP was unveiled at the Balmoral Show in 2018.
The advice paper produced the following year makes a series of recommendations across a range of issues, including around how messages are communicated to farmers, and the role of private vets in overall disease prevention on farms.
However, when it comes to a discussion around TB, two main issues dominate – cutting compensation for reactor animals, and a potential badger cull.
Proposals to cut compensation are not new, and 10 years ago the Department wanted to introduce a system based on table based values. Then in 2016, the prelude to TBEP, the TB Strategic Partnership Group, recommended that payments should be capped at £1,500 for non-pedigree and £1,800 for pedigree animals.
The recommendation put forward by TBEP is less penal. It suggested a 10% reduction on values of the first five animals in any 12-month period, but made it clear that any cuts should be on hold until there is a significant change in the approach to wildlife intervention.
On that thorny issue, the TBEP favoured a cull of badgers in TB hotspot areas, similar to the approach taken in the Republic of Ireland.
That is probably an approach backed by farm lobby groups, but the reality is it any cull of healthy badgers will be vehemently opposed by environmentalists and wildlife campaigners.
What might end up as the compromise solution is something based around the Test : Vaccinate : Remove (TVR) strategy trialled by DAERA from 2014 – 2018, which involves culling sick badgers and vaccinating healthy ones. It is noteworthy that the influential Ulster Wildlife Trust has indicated that TVR is an approach it could support.