Opinion

It’s time to take a cross-border approach on TB eradication

The issue of Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) eradication continues to strike fear into the heart of every Irish livestock farmer.

Ireland now enjoys Officially Brucellosis Free (OBF) status. This is because the disease was, effectively, tackled on an all-island basis. Meanwhile, the same commitment has been shown in the context of addressing the challenge that is Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD).

So why can’t the same approach be taken when it comes to tackling the scourge of Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB)?

Surely there is a need for total consistency across both jurisdictions on this island, regarding the strategies put in place to eradicate the disease once and for all.

So much for the over-arching principles that need to be agreed. However, I am fully aware of the fact that the bTB issue is complicated because of the now proven link to wildlife, specifically badgers, acting as disease hosts.

Up to this point, the farmer perspective on the need to tackle the bTB problem in badgers could have been perceived as one of ‘cull at all costs’, irrespective of the implications for our wildlife populations.

However, any thoughts of this nature went totally out the window when I heard Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) deputy president Victor Chestnutt address a recent press event.

He made it very clear that farmers want to see healthy populations of cattle and badgers co-existing with each other in our countryside.

But the reality is that badgers do harbour bTB and, as a result, they act as a key point-of-spread for the disease within our cattle population.

It, therefore, makes sense that the disease must be tackled with equal vigour within both animal populations.

Simply testing cattle and removing reactor animals is a road to nowhere. Eradication of bTB, by the way, is also a good news story for our wildlife as it will serve to improve the health of Ireland’s badger population as a whole.

The bTB public consultation period in Northern Ireland is ongoing. My understanding is that the UFU will submit its views on the subject at the end of this month. They should make interesting reading.

Farmers fully support the policy of getting to grips with bTB: The issue at the heart of the matter is that of balancing the public budget required to make it all happen.

As one might well expect, the UFU will not budge an inch on the need for farmers to be fully compensated for the value of all reactor cattle removed in the wake of a bTB test.

However, I sense that a commitment to some form of farmer-funding mechanism may well be on the cards, when it comes to getting a co-ordinated badger cull over the line.

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