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Confirmed NI badger cull is ‘disproportionate and unjustified’ – USPCA




DAERA’s confirmation of an indiscriminate badger cull as part of a new long term bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) Eradication Strategy for Northern Ireland, has been countered with severe criticism from Northern Ireland animal welfare charity, the USPCA.


The announcement on Thursday (24 March 2022) by DAERA Minister Edwin Poots saw the Department’s approval of the shooting of this protected species – a method which would be led by farmers as a means to ‘effectively’ tackle the prevalence of bovine TB in cattle.


Announcing the Strategy (full statement from the Minister at end of article), Minister Poots said:


“As Agriculture Minister and someone who has farmed for most of my life, I recognise the challenges that farmers face with TB breakdowns. It is a source of significant stress for our farming families and has the potential to inflict serious damage on the wider agri-food industry and its ability to trade on a global scale.


“For too long this disease has had a devastating impact on our farming community. Since coming into post as Minister, I have made the eradication of bovine TB a top priority and have been determined to take every action possible to achieve this goal. My Department, and I, have liaised with leaders and stakeholders from across all sectors to ensure that we have taken all factors into consideration.”


DAERA Minister, Edwin Poots.

The development comes following lengthy campaigning from the Charity and other animal/environmental organisations – including a petition in opposition to the cull which garnered the support of over 10,000 signatories and was presented to the Assembly.



USPCA Chief Executive, Brendan Mullan, said:


“This cull is completely unacceptable and unjustifiable – we have pointed repeatedly to roadkill statistics and DAERA’s own TVR research project which indicates that 4 out of 5 badgers do not have TB. The Department’s actions will see the killing of thousands of healthy badgers and will be seen as nothing other than a wildlife catastrophe for Northern Ireland.


“We are of the view that this decision lacks the adoption of emerging science and research in tackling the disease. A recent study published in the official journal of the British Veterinary Association provided an extensive analysis of bTB incidence in England over an 11-year period and determined that, despite the culling of over 140,000 badgers, ‘government data failed to identify any meaningful effect of the cull’ on the prevalence of the disease in herds.”


The announcement today also included reference to ‘ensuring that high welfare standards are adhered to’ when carrying out the free shooting of badgers.


USPCA Chief Executive, Brendan Mullan.

Brendan commented:


“The Westminster government’s own Independent Expert branded recent culls in England as ‘inhumane and ineffective’. In fact, the same panel also highlighted just how inhumane this method is and how much unthinkable suffering it causes – more than 20% of badgers shot took up to five minutes to die. In no society should this be acceptable.”


“Ultimately, a much more proportionate and humane approach is Trap, Vaccinate or Remove (TVR) – DAERA’s own research project demonstrated that this is an effective mechanism to reducing TB in badgers, with prevalence reduced from 14% to less than 2%. We are disappointed that this has been rejected on the basis of cost in favour of free shooting,” said Brendan.



DAERA’s initial consultation also cited potential changes to compensation rates and caps for affected farmers. Today it was announced that this review will be delayed for two years.


Brendan commented:


“We do not agree that farmers’ should face compensation cuts however we believe that these payments should be contingent on whether farms meet high standards of biosecurity. DAERA’s consultation itself highlighted that ‘poor herd health management and lax biosecurity increases the risk of disease’. Furthermore, references to the compulsory use of interferon gamma blood testing ‘where deemed necessary’ is entirely the wrong approach. Current testing leaves one third of infected cattle in the herd and therefore results in a spiral of reinfection. Bovine TB is a cattle disease and the key actions to tackle it start on the farm – enhanced testing and superior biosecurity standards should be compulsory in all situations.”


“In conclusion, we are incredibly disappointed by DAERA’s decision today – badgers are not the culprit here and we fear in five years-time we will continue to see high prevalence of Bovine TB in herds, despite this cull. Our badger population will suffer gravely as a result and to what end?” added Brendan.


 

Full statement from DAERA Minister Edwin Poots as he launched the consultation the new long-term Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) Eradication Strategy for Northern Ireland.


“As Agriculture Minister and someone who has farmed for most of my life, I recognise the challenges that farmers face with TB breakdowns. It is a source of significant stress for our farming families and has the potential to inflict serious damage on the wider agri-food industry and its ability to trade on a global scale.


“For too long this disease has had a devastating impact on our farming community. Since coming into post as Minister, I have made the eradication of bovine TB a top priority and have been determined to take every action possible to achieve this goal. My Department, and I, have liaised with leaders and stakeholders from across all sectors to ensure that we have taken all factors into consideration.”


The Minister continued: “The proposals outlined in the new Strategy are based on the experience and evidence from other jurisdictions and on solid scientific research. I have carefully considered the views of all our stakeholders following a public consultation, weighing these up against the evidence and information within a detailed business case.”



Speaking about the details of the Strategy, the Minister said:


“To eradicate TB, all factors which contribute to the spread and maintenance of the disease in the environment must be addressed in parallel. I know that wildlife, particularly badgers, are a significant factor in TB maintenance and spread in the environment. I very much appreciate that this is an emotive issue for many but in order to ensure a healthy cattle population I intend to introduce a programme of badger intervention in a limited number of areas. I want to make clear this is not the wholescale removal of badgers across Northern Ireland nor is it the removal of all badgers in an area. It is based on the experience and success of other parts of the UK and in the Republic of Ireland. I would hope that we can in a short number of years be able to move to a programme of badger vaccination and therefore we will have a healthy cattle and badger population.


“The annual cost of the TB programme is around £36-£40million, almost half of which is paid in compensation for infected cattle. This is simply not sustainable and is a drain on the public purse. I am however, very aware that the farming industry faces a number of challenges at the moment and into the immediate future.


“Therefore, whilst acknowledging the need for changes to our compensation system, I will not be introducing these at the moment but have asked my officials to review this in the medium term.


“I am also announcing my Department’s intention to introduce further enhancements to the existing TB Programme such as the testing of non-bovines and the criteria on which interferon gamma testing will be made compulsory. This will build on the current programme and support industry to work closely with us, playing an active part in getting rid of this disease.


“I want to keep us all focused on moving forward together towards reducing TB levels in the short term and in the longer term eradicating this disease from the Northern Ireland herd. The measures proposed will underpin the great ability of our wonderful farming and processing industry to trade. This is a Strategy not just for today but for the young farmers of tomorrow, many of whom train here at Greenmount Campus.”