The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has said testing badgers for TB must go hand in hand with the push to map badger setts.

ICSA Animal Health and Welfare Committee chairperson Hugh Farrell said: “The Department of Agriculture is currently asking farmers for their assistance in mapping badger setts, and while it is important to know the location of badger setts on our farms, it is also important to know if these badgers have TB or not.

“For too long the department has told us there is no need to TB test badgers in large numbers. However, the practice of testing only a small number of badgers and then estimating a national prevalence rate is just not good enough.

We are going to need more precise information in our fight against TB. This must involve testing more badgers and delivering greater accuracy around tracking the spread of the disease through badgers.

“It must also involve the flow of this information back to farmers,” Farrell said.

Farmer cooperation

Farrell said all additional efforts to reduce the spread of TB are to be welcomed and that farmers would play their part.

“Everybody has to do their bit and I would advise all farmers to view the advice issued by the department on protecting their herds from the threat posed by badgers,” he said.

However, advising farmers to fence off badger setts is all well and good but knowing if the badgers are diseased, and removing them if they are, is key to controlling the spread.

The ICSA is critical of the push by the department to limit the culling of badgers in favour of a vaccination programme.

“The argument that a vaccination programme is as effective as a culling programme does not hold weight when we are constantly being informed that TB levels are rising,” said Farrell.

“This is particularly relevant in areas like Monaghan and Offaly where the switch to vaccination has coincided with a marked increase in the number of reactors.”

Farrell said he also expects scientific evidence to confirm the fears of many farmers that deer populations are contributing to the problem.

“The department has been too slow to accept any responsibility in controlling the spread of TB through wild deer. However, farmers are more convinced than ever that they are also a key driver in the spread, and ICSA believes scientific evidence will soon bear this out,” concludes Farrell.