Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson Robin Swann MLA has said that Northern Ireland should move quickly on rolling out a targeted, licenced and industry led badger cull programme.
He was commenting after new figures were published by DEFRA which confirmed the success of equivalent culls in high risk areas of England.
Following the four-year badger culls in both Somerset and Gloucestershire, according to the Government figures, the number of new TB outbreaks halved.
Mr Swann said: “Bovine TB is blighting farms right across Northern Ireland. It’s costing local taxpayers around £40m a year in testing and compensation costs alone and impacts around one in 10 farm businesses. The inconvenience to farmers through regular testing and closed herds is incalculable.
“Whilst England is moving steadily towards their target of officially bovine TB free status by 2038, such a scenario still sounds like a pipedream for Northern Ireland. In fact, instead of improving, things are getting gradually worse.
“England’s badger control policy has included the licensing of industry-led badger culling from 2013 and provision of biosecurity advice to farmers in licenced areas since 2014. From April 2017 where badger control operations have been completed for a minimum of two years, mandatory interferon-gamma testing was also introduced in addition to tuberculin skin testing. Groups of farmers and landowners have been issued licences for culling across 21 of the high risk areas of England,” he added.
“It is the results of these culls that have now just recently been produced by DEFRA and the findings are very reassuring.
“In fact the results of the cull are so good that they have prompted DEFRA to roll-out the cull in the remaining high risk areas of England.
“The debate on whether badgers spread TB has already come and gone. Even the European Commission’s bTB sub-group, which comprises veterinary experts from across the EU have stated in the past that there was ‘considerable evidence to support the removal of badgers in order to improve the TB status of both badgers and cattle.’
“Until the cause of spread is tackled then there is little point in trying to do much else. That is why I firmly believe that DAERA must implement a similar culling scheme here in Northern Ireland.”