Responding to a parliamentary question on the issue in recent days he said: “My Department believes that the culling of badgers is cost effective and that it has contributed significantly to the very significant improvement in the disease situation in recent years.”
He outlined that since 2008, the number of reactors has declined by almost 50% from around 30,000 to 15,600 last year.
Minister Coveney stated that this is a new record low since the commencement of the eradication programme in the 1950s and, for the first time since then, eradication is now a practicable proposition. He said that it is noteworthy that the animal prevalence of TB in Ireland in 2013 was, at 0.26%, roughly half of that in Northern Ireland where badger culling is not practised.
The improvement in the TB situation has also resulted in a significant reduction in expenditure on the TB eradication scheme, he said, which has fallen from €55m in 2008 to €30m in 2013. It is also noteworthy that the incidence of TB in badgers has fallen by about 50% since 2002, and this is also contributing to the reduction in the incidence of the disease in cattle.
“In regard to badger vaccination the Minister said that the ultimate objective of my Department is to incorporate badger vaccination into the Irish TB eradication programme when data is available to ensure that it can be incorporated in an optimally effective and sustainable manner.
“A number of field trials are ongoing in Ireland with this objective in mind, but it is anticipated that it will be a number of years before a viable oral delivery method can be put in place and, therefore, targeted badger removals will continue in the medium term.”