The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have clashed over the role deer play in the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) in cattle.

The chairman of the IFA’s Animal Health Committee, Pat Farrell, has “strongly refuted” claims made by the department that deer are not a key contributor to the spread of TB.

He stated that the facts are “irrefutable” and he referenced a study carried out by the department in Co. Wicklow – which found over 16% of the deer culled to be infected with the disease.

These results clearly establish the levels of TB in deer and the threat they pose to herds of cattle, Farrell stressed.

If the department is serious about eradicating TB by 2030, a proactive approach to addressing wildlife will be essential.

The densities of both badger and deer across the country, according to Farrell, must be reduced to levels where they pose no threat to the health of cattle.

‘Lack of evidence’

However, on the most recent episode of FarmLand, Dr. Eoin Ryan – senior superintending veterinary inspector at the department who heads up policy on Bovine TB – highlighted that no hard evidence has been discovered that indicates that wild deer are transmitting the disease.

Commenting on the matter, he said: “There has been a lot of talk of deer lately; but we haven’t found evidence that deer have played a role in spreading TB to cattle in most of the country.

“In Wicklow, there was a study that the Department of Agriculture carried out in cooperation with farmers locally and hunters where the same strains of TB were found to be circulating in deer, cattle and badgers.

But, in Wicklow, there is a particularly high density of deer there and it wasn’t clear which animal was infecting which other ones.

“In other parts of the country – and we said it at local public meetings in Monaghan – we’re perfectly happy to test deer which are shot for TB, but there simply isn’t evidence right now to say that deer are a significant cause of the spread of TB in these areas.

“That’s not to say we are not happy to test these deer and look into it,” he said.