Creed announces ‘long overdue’ scheme to vaccinate badgers in the fight against TB in cattle

Published by Niall Sargent on

January 17th, 2018

The Agriculture Minister has launched a new scheme to vaccinate badgers against tuberculosis (TB) as an integral part of the fight against TB in cattle.

Environmental groups said that the move is long overdue and have called for the complete elimination of the Government’s badger culling programme in use since the 1980s.

Under the Department of Agriculture’s (DAFM) new scheme, badgers will receive the Bacillus Calmette Guérin (BCG) vaccine in seven areas of the country where field trials have been successful.

According to DAFM, the field trials indicated that vaccination had a similar effect as the current technique of badger culling on reducing the risk of TB transmission from badgers to cattle.

Bovine TB is caused by Mycobacterium bovis, an organism that has also caused widespread infection in badgers that may then transmit TB back to cattle.

Long Overdue

The move has been welcomed by the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT), although the conservation NGO said that the policy shift is “long overdue”.

The idea of vaccinating badgers as a possible solution to the TB issue was first mooted 27 years ago. In the meantime, over 100,000 badgers have been snared and shot, according to the IWT.

Badger culling vaccinations TB

Photo: Andy Ballard

IWT Campaigns Officer Pádraic Fogarty said that it was “high time” that Ireland sees the end of the “barbaric practice” of culling, in particular during the badger breeding season.

Although the native mammal’s status as a protected species under both Irish and European law, over 6,000 badgers were killed in 2016 alone. while quarterly TB rates in cattle actually increased in 2017.

“The so-called ‘TB eradication’ programme has been a costly failure, not least in the devastating impact on badgers. The IWT would like to see a firm commitment for the ending of the culling programme,” Mr Forgery added.

Major step forward

According to the Minister of Agriculture, Michael Creed, TD vaccination should now gradually replace the need to remove badgers by other means. Mr Creed said that the move is a “major step forward” in eradicating TB from Irish cattle and follows years of scientific research into the issue.

“The most recent research findings confirm that vaccination of badgers can play a role in reducing the level of infection in cattle,” he added.

Minister Creed said that the use of vaccinations will see Ireland move towards eradication of bovine TB in a “controlled holistic way” and protect Ireland’s badger population.

Green Party Agriculture Spokesperson Pippa Hackett said that her party also supports the move and has long been opposed to the “cruel snaring and culling of badgers”.

“Badgers are a protected species under Irish law, yet the State has been responsible for the death of tens of thousands of badgers over past decades, with little or no impact on the incidence of TB in our nation’s cattle,” she added.

“Other animals, including the cattle themselves, can also carry the disease, and further research will probably be required if we wish to eradicate this disease totally from our shores in the future.”

Farming Reaction

According to the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA) Animal Health Chairman, Pat Farrell, the move toward vaccination is the “logical next step” in the TB eradication programme.

Mr Farrell said that early indications from the seven trial areas are positive but that farmers will have to be convinced that this can be replicated on a national scale and in higher density populations of badgers.

Mr Farrell added that the IFA will “engage proactively” with the programme but warned that the views and issues raised by farmers, such as the “enormous financial burden” of TB control must be recognised and addressed by DAFM.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London