‘No evidence of link between wild deer and spread of TB’ – chief vet

No definitive evidence has been found that links deer to the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, a senior vet at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has stated.

Speaking tonight, on episode 7 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.

Currently, 2,200 farmers are locked up with TB across the country – the lowest rate recorded in recent years. While herd incidence stood at 8% in 2000, it was under 3.5% in 2017.

The Government recently stated its ambition to eradicate Bovine TB from the national herd by 2030. A new TB stakeholder forum was established last summer  to draw up proposals that can help achieve this target.

The forum comprises of representatives from the department, farm organisations, the veterinary profession, the agri-food industry, and the farming and research communities.

The vaccination of badgers commenced as an integral part of the eradication programme from January 2018.

It is a realistic but ambitious target. It’s not going to be easy to achieve it; but I think we have no choice. We have to do more than we have been doing at the moment.

“I’m acutely conscious of the burden TB causes on farmers – not just the financial but the mental stress and worry and uncertainty – and we really have to do more to remove that stress on farmers,” said Dr. Ryan.

Although levels are lower than they have ever been historically, the leading vet acknowledges that greater strides are needed.

Also Read: TB forum: ‘Actions taken must be sensitive to farmers’ needs

“The programme has been really successful – only a few years ago we had 40,000 reactors a year; we’re down now to 16,000 or 17,000 reactors a year – but that is still too many.

“What is important is we have to focus on protecting the 97% of farmers who don’t have TB and also working with those whose herds do have TB to get them clear and help them stay clear, so they don’t keep having repeat breakdowns,” he said during a discussion on the issue with Frank Brady, chairman of Monaghan IFA.

Dr. Ryan stated that, in accordance with research findings, infected wildlife and badgers are the principle sources of the disease in the country.

He also stated that the disease can be spread by poor bio-security.

That could be contamination of an area, or of equipment, and one of the messages that is important that we deliver to farmers is you can do something to improve your security.

“It won’t eliminate all your risk; but more attention to bio-security, more attention to being careful what animals are brought in, that can reduce the risk as well,” Dr. Ryan said.

Deer source

Regarding the threat posed by deer, Dr. Ryan pointed to a lack of evidence to support such claims.

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 co-operation with farmers locally and hunters where the same strains of TB were found to be circulating in deer, cattle and badger.

“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.