Over the last five years the Department has culled 1,028 badgers in County Cavan. In that period, the least number culled was 148 in 2016, with the most, 239 in 2013.
Environmentalist Barry Kavanagh of Nature's Patch, based in Bailieborough
“It's the policy of culling that is the problem, because it has never been proven to be successful in reducing TB in cattle.”
However the IFA say they have fought long and hard to have the current Wildlife Control programme established in the early 2000s and farmers and government are seeing the benefits with the reduction in TB levels that has been achieved since then. He said any changes to this policy can only be based on solid evidence of an alternative approach providing higher levels of protection for cattle from TB.
Mr Kavanagh notes that Ireland's rate of TB, although reduced, remains higher than the EU average.
“We've been killing badgers for... years, and yet the TB rates are quite high.”
Mr Kavanagh observes that the recent results of the vaccination trial undertaken by UCD scientists in Kilkenny, on behalf of the department has proven successful in reducing TB in badger populations.
Bert Stewart IFA Animal Health chairman urged caution in interpreting the research results. He said the project indicated a protective effect for badgers within the area. “This cannot conclude, nor is it concluding, that vaccination will be as effective as the current Wildlife Control Programme in reducing the spread of TB to cattle.”
The method of vaccinating deployed in the research study required capturing the badgers and microchipping, and administering the BCG strain orally, to establish the validity of results. However, upon establishing the effectiveness of such vaccines, Mr Kavanagh envisages oral vaccination to be carried out with minimal effort.
He gives the example of badger setts on his own farm in Bailieborough:
“I know where their setts are, and with oral vaccination, all I have to do is get a bag of inoculated food, sprinkle them in front of the set, that night the badgers will come out and eat them, so it's not really that difficult.”
At the time the research was published, Minister Michael Creed said: “That it is my Department's ambition, to deploy a full badger vaccination strategy as part of the eradication programme provided that the vaccination of badgers delivers an outcome equivalent to the current badger removal strategy”.
Further trials are currently being conducted in six separate locations country-wide, involving the vaccination by intramuscular injection, of several hundred badgers over three to four years, with continuous monitoring of the cattle population to assess the impact of the vaccine on the incidence of the disease in the cattle population. The outcome of these field trials, the initial results of which are due in 2018, will eventually determine whether the vaccination of badgers delivers an outcome equivalent to the current badger removal strategy.
Asked about how they carry out culling, a Department spokesperson explained:
“Badgers are captured using a specifically designed stopped-body restraint by trained Farm Relief Service contractors, supervised by staff of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and are dispatched using a firearm as required under the terms of the licence. The Department monitors the animal welfare aspects of badger culling on a continuous basis, and so ensures that the existing procedures result in minimal injury to badgers.