No plans for NI badger cull 5 August 2010
Written Answers 23 July 2010 Badger Cull to Prevent the Spread of Bovine TB
Mr J Shannon asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development if she has had any discussions with her counterpart in the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in relation to a badger cull to prevent the spread of bovine TB; and if these discussions have enabled the initiation of a cull Northern Ireland.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development: I note that the new Liberal-Conservative Coalition in Britain has announced that, as part of a package of measures, they will introduce a carefully-managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine TB. I have not had any discussions with my counterpart in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in relation to a badger cull. I understand that decisions on the shape of the Defra package of measures have not yet been taken and that the Coalition wishes to consider all the issues carefully, including the scientific evidence, and to work out the detail of the package to ensure they get it right. They will be looking at vaccine and culling options as part of that package. They will also watch how Wales embarks on their planned badger cull whilst they finalise their own plans. I shall be very interested to see exactly what it is they propose and how it is to be funded.
My Department has a rigorous TB programme in place, approved by the EU, which includes a strand to address the wildlife factor. The ultimate aim of our TB strategy is to eradicate TB in cattle in the north of Ireland.
Interventions to address the wildlife issue may include improving biosecurity, as well as options for more direct intervention such as the vaccination of badgers, which may be the most feasible solution in the long-term though I recognise it could be some time before an effective oral badger vaccine becomes available. We plan to carry out a TB Biosecurity Study this year to assess what critical differences there are between infected and non-infected herds in a TB high incidence area in County Down.
Consideration of both selected cattle and wildlife factors will be key elements of this Study which will help inform new biosecurity advice for farmers. We are also seeking to see how other AFBI research and development projects can best contribute to the fight against TB.
To date, research involving badger culling elsewhere presents a mixed picture of its cost benefit and effectiveness in reducing disease levels in cattle. It would appear that the cost exceeds the benefit by 2-3 times. There are no plans for any cull of badgers here. As the badger is a protected species, any direct interventions in the badger population would be subject to the agreement of the Environment Minister, and also to the availability of the substantial additional funding that would be needed.
My officials will continue to maintain contact with the work that is on-going in the south of Ireland and in England to develop a viable vaccine for badgers, which can be deployed in a cost effective way. We will also track the progress of the Welsh cull as well as the delivery of the Defra package of measures in England.
Action to deal with cattle to cattle transmission of TB will also continue to be an important element of our TB strategy as we move forward.