This week’s comments by Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president Victor Chestnutt to the effect that farmers want to see healthy populations of cattle and badgers co-existing with each other in our countryside were both timely and relevant.
Up to this point the farmer perspective on the need to tackle the tuberculosis (TB) problem in badgers could have been perceived as one of ‘cull at all costs, irrespective of the implications for our wildlife populations.’
This was never the case. Farmers are – and always will be - the foremost guardians of our countryside.
But the reality is that badgers do harbour bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and, as a result, they act as a key point of spread for the disease within our cattle population. So it makes sense that the disease must be tackled with equal vigour amongst both animal populations. Simply testing cattle and removing reactor animals makes no sense at all as the authorities strive to eradicate the disease completely.
Eradication, by the way, is also a good news story for our wildlife as it will serve to improve the health of Northern Ireland’s badger population as a whole.
The current Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) public consultation period on bTB ends in three weeks’ time. My understanding is that the UFU will submit its views on the subject at the end of this month. They should make interesting reading.
Farmers fully support the policy of getting to grips with bTB: the issue at the heart of the matter is that of balancing the budget required to make it all happen.
As one might well expect, the Union will not budge an inch on the need for farmers to be fully compensated for the value of all reactor cattle removed in the wake of a TB test.
However, I sense that a commitment to some form of farmer-funding mechanism may well be on the cards, in order to get a co-ordinated badger cull over the line.