District ‘sett’ for badger survey

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AGRICULTURE Minister Michelle O’Neill has said that the eradication of TB in cattle is a key priority after announcing a badger sett survey in the Banbridge/Rathfriland area.

The Minister was updating the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee on preparations for the proposed “test and vaccinate or remove (TVR)” wildlife intervention research, which would involve testing live badgers; vaccinating and releasing the test negative badgers; and removing the test positive ones.

The Minister said: “I wish to commence preliminary badger sett survey work as soon as possible. I have agreed that AFBI should start the sett survey in a 100km² area between Banbridge and Rathfriland as soon as permissions from local farmers are obtained.

“I am encouraged that the balanced TVR approach has been welcomed by a broad spectrum of stakeholders.”

The Minister added: “I believe that it is important that we regularly take stock of the TB position in the north and refocus our efforts to make further progress and the committee’s recently published Review into Bovine TB Report provides an opportunity to do this. I share the widely held aspiration to achieve a progressive reduction in disease levels towards the ultimate eradication of TB here.”

Minister O’Neill concluded: “In addressing the TB problem clearly more needs to be done, but we must take care that any additional control measures we take are proportionate, practical and cost effective and are likely to help to reduce the disease. I expect to see further proposals for a range of possible new measures developed for discussion with key stakeholders over the coming months.”

The news has been welcomed by the Ulster Farmers’ Union. UFU President Harry Sinclair said; “This is a significant development and we welcome it as a positive step forward in our long battle to eradicate bovine TB. The UFU has always held the view that the removal and eradication of TB from the countryside can only be achieved by addressing the problem in both cattle and wildlife.

“The current TB policy of only removing diseased cattle will not achieve eradication because the disease is also carried in wildlife and therefore cattle will inevitably continue to be infected. While the plans set out by Minister O’Neill are a step forward, farmers will be concerned that it could entail a lengthy five year research programme. It is our view that the programme should be regularly evaluated and if the results are favourable, then the entire project should be rolled out across the industry much more quickly.”

Mr Sinclair concluded: “The UFU is totally committed to achieving the eradication of TB in Northern Ireland and we look forward to helping DARD and other industry stakeholders formulate a successful policy to achieve this. We all want to work towards achieving a healthy farm livestock and wildlife population.”