Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson Robin Swann MLA has questioned why DAERA is not taking up the recommendation of a badger cull from its own TB advisory group.
Robin Swann said: “TB is costing the Northern Ireland public purse around £40m every single year. £25m of that is for compensation, with testing costs adding around a further £15m each year. The effect on individual farms however can be incalculable as herds are closed, key cattle are lost and regular testing – especially at this time of year – is a major disruption.
“For years DARD, and now DAERA, have said tackling bovine TB remains a key priority. Yet instead of the problem getting better, it continued to get worse.
“Whilst the Department have been running the important test, vaccinate and release (TVR) project in County Down – in which 1,500 badgers were trapped – we are still yet to be told how many of the trapped animals were even infected.
“Last year however, I was able to reveal that of the 1,500 other badgers that had been killed on the roads and collected by DAERA, one in six later tested positive for TB. There is simply no doubt that badgers are major carriers of TB.
“Even the European Commission’s bTB sub-group, which comprises veterinary experts have said there is ‘considerable evidence to support the removal of badgers in order to improve the TB status of both badgers and cattle.’
“England is moving steadily towards their target of officially bovine TB free status by 2038. Their approach has included the licensing of industry-led badger culling. When the results of those culls were produced by DEFRA last year, the findings were positive. In fact the results prompted DEFRA to roll-out a further cull in the remaining high risk areas of England,” added Mr Swann.
“Badgers are an important species and have an important place in our countryside, but when they are ill and infecting other animals there is only one humane thing to do.
“It’s about time DAERA stopped procrastinating and grasped the nettle. We have spent too much time and too much money on independent expert reports and advice. It’s about time those findings were listened to and actioned,” he concluded.
The USPCA has come out strongly against a badger cull being introduced in Northern Ireland, as recommended by DAERA’s Advisory Group.
USPCA Chief Executive, Brendan Mullan stated: “There is a need for a new conversation to effectively eradicate the disease. It is disappointing that to date, the Department and their advisers are refusing to take notice of the really encouraging results achieved on a farm in Devon – Gatcombe Farm - which suffered from TB for 10 years and is now disease free.”