Badgers may shun cattle, but it’s not enough to save them from being culled, according to the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

However, he also said that a move to vaccination of badgers is something he would like to see happen.

The Minister was responding to questions from TD Maureen O’Sullivan, who said that recent research had shown that badgers avoid fields of cattle and farm buildings containing cattle and if he would acknowledge that badgers have been wrongfully vilified and suspend his Department’s practice of badger culling.

She said the current practice of badger culling has resulted in the snaring and killing of a large number of badgers.

However, Minister Coveney said that the badger removal strategy, which has been part of the TB eradication programme for some years, has been developed in response to research which has demonstrated that the eradication of the disease in cattle is not a practicable proposition until the reservoir of infection in badgers, with which it has also been found they share localised TB strains, is addressed.

“This is based on a number of studies which showed that badger removal had a significant beneficial impact on the risk of future breakdowns, with areas where badgers were not removed being some 14 times at greater risk than in areas where badgers were removed.

“It is also notable that there has been a significant improvement in the disease situation in Ireland both in the cattle and badger populations since the badger removal programme was put on a more structured footing in 2004.”

He said that the incidence of TB in cattle has fallen by almost 40% since 2008 and is currently at record low levels.

“It is particularly interesting that the incidence of TB in Northern Ireland, where badger removal is not prioritised, is approximately twice as high as on this side of the Border.”

He also said that the badger study referred to by O’Sullivan is still ongoing and is designed to find out how exactly the disease transmission between badgers and cattle takes place, with a view to building up a comprehensive picture of badger movements and helping to design a viable vaccination programme for badgers.

“The fact that badgers tend to avoid buildings does not mean that they do not transmit disease to cattle. The position is that badgers can and do transmit TB to cattle via faeces, urine or latrines, and strain-typing has shown that badgers and cattle share the same strain of TB which is prevalent in the locality.

“Apart from this, research has shown that, as I have stated above, the removal of badgers from a locality has resulted in a significant reduction in the incidence of TB in cattle.

“I want to move to a vaccination programme where we vaccinate badgers against TB.”