The Northern Ireland Badger Group has urged the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to deploy a BCG vaccination programme instead of the proposed indiscriminate trap and shoot cull of badgers.
The Conservation Group made its comments as part of its response to the Northern Ireland bovine TB strategy consultation.
A Badger Group spokesman said they were ‘astonished and very disappointed’ that trapping and shooting badgers has been proposed in Northern Ireland at all.
The spokesperson continued: “The latest official figures show that several years of culling in England has failed to make any difference to cattle TB. The UK government’s own Independent Expert Panel, appointed to oversee the English badger culls, branded them ‘cruel’ and ‘ineffective’.”
The spokesperson said there is now a broad consensus amongst leading experts that culling badgers is wholly ineffective in controlling bovine TB, with a growing body of evidence supporting this position.
“Culling, which has attracted widespread public protest, remains a hugely unpopular policy for the government. The industry is already experiencing declining consumer confidence with UK milk sales falling by £240 million between 2014 and 2016. The Badger Group believes that a badger cull could cause real and lasting damage to the image of Northern Ireland farming,” the spokesperson continued.
“It is becoming increasingly apparent that badgers are not the threat to livestock that the industry would have its members believe. The distribution of specific TB strains across the country can only be adequately explained by cattle movements.
“It is now acknowledged that the current test misses up to half of the infected cattle. Studies have found that TB in cow dung and slurry is infecting earthworms, the badgers’ staple diet. There is now no doubt that badgers are catching TB from cattle. A badger in Cumbria, in the North of England, was found to be infected with a strain of TB that had originated in Northern Ireland,” the spokesman added.
The Badger Group is urging all stakeholders to support a badger vaccination programme.
“Our message to those who remain concerned about TB in badgers is to listen to the evidence, not uninformed rhetoric. The vast majority of the badger population is free of TB and exaggerated claims of badgers suffering as a result of the disease are unfounded.
“5,000 doses of BCG vaccine were deployed in the Welsh Government’s badger vaccination programme and none of the badgers trapped showed any indication of suffering as a result of TB. Field research shows that vaccination is the only intervention proven to reduce infection.
“As a cost-effective and more humane alternative to culling, vaccination is better for badgers and, ultimately, better for farming. It is hard to see how the industry can complain about poor public support if it is prepared to shoot itself in the foot by endorsing the pointless slaughter of healthy badgers,” the spokesperson concluded.