Parliamentary Questions and Answers

Question 99 - Answered on 18th February, 2004

Dan Boyle: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food his views on the description of his Department's tuberculosis eradication scheme as a cruel slaughter of badgers masquerading as science; if he will review the policy in favour of more scientific and more compassionate methods to prevent the spread of tuberculosis; and his views on the Krebs experiment in the UK which has seen a suspension of reactive culling of badgers.

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): The bovine tuberculosis eradication scheme is carried out in full compliance with EU Directive 64/432.

This has reduced the level of tuberculosis in cattle from 17% in 1955 to 0.3% in 2003. It is now accepted that the presence of an infected maintenance host, the badger, is a major constraint to the final eradication of tuberculosis from the national herd. A multi-disciplined research programme involving staff from the Department, Teagasc and the universities is making significant progress in identifying improvements to the eradication programme. This research is driven by science. Significant progress is also being made on the development of a vaccine strategy for the badger population. In this, my Department and others are in collaboration with scientific colleagues in the UK and New Zealand.

The present policy is scientifically based and under constant review. For instance, this year changes include a more focused contiguous herd testing policy, more use of the ancillary gamma interferon blood test in target herds and a new enhanced computer system which will improve our analytical capacity.The results of the four area study into the effect of local area badger removal will be published in the near future. This study is expected to confirm the results of the earlier east Offaly study, which indicated a significant effect on bovine tuberculosis levels following removal of badgers from an area.

Under the PPF a new wildlife unit has been introduced to focus on the TB blackspot areas of the country. The removal of badgers is carried out by trained staff and badger welfare is a major element in the working of the programme.

With reference to the Krebs experiment in the UK, detailed data relating to the trial have not been published by the UK authorities and, therefore, it would not be appropriate to comment at this stage. While the suspension of reactive culling of badgers has been noted, it is not possible to extrapolate the position to this country as the ecology of the badger is different here - for example, in the UK 70% of setts are in woodland and 30% in pasture, while the reverse applies in Ireland and the social group size is different. The method of capture is also unlike that practised here in that the UK uses the caged trapping method whereas we use restraints for trapping. We did experiment with caged trapping but found no advantages from a welfare point of view.

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