Irish taxpayers and badgers are taking a hit for no benefit

Environmental Pillar calls on the Government to reassess badger culling for TB control in cattle

23 April 2013: The Environmental Pillar, a coalition of 26 national environmental groups in Ireland, is calling on the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, to reassess the logic behind badger culling as part of Ireland’s strategy for tuberculosis (TB) control in cattle. Their call is backed by research which shows that badger culling has little if no impact on TB levels, yet costs taxpayers millions each year.
‘Extensive studies have shown that badger culling isn’t effective in controlling TB in cattle. It may even exacerbate the problem,’ said Conn Flynn, Environmental Pillar spokesperson and Development Officer with the Irish Wildlife Trust.
‘Badgers play a minor role in TB’s presence in the national herd. The real issues for TB control are chronically infected herds, herd movement and issues with accuracy in TB testing,’ Mr Flynn said.
Last year, €3.6 million euro was spent directly on culling 7,000 badgers in Ireland, yet had barely any impact on TB levels in cattle. The number of TB-infected cattle was only 55 fewer in 2012 than in 2013 – a reduction of less than 0.3% and a spending of over €65,000 per animal. The maximum price the government will compensate a farmer to cull an infected milk cow is €2,800.
The current badger cull was introduced as part of an interim policy for TB control but there is no evidence to support its continuation. Leading scientists and veterinarians from the Department of Agriculture openly accept that vaccination is the only real and sustainable way to deal with the badger issue. Trials to develop a vaccine for badgers are underway and it is already clear that badger vaccination will be much cheaper than culling. The government plans to continue badger culling while the vaccination is being developed. The Irish government is not part of international efforts to develop a cattle vaccine.
‘By focusing so much money and effort into badger culling while we neglect the main causes, we’re actively perpetuating the problem.  We’re sentencing the Irish taxpayer, Irish farmers and Irish badgers to seemingly endless misery,’ said Mr Flynn.
‘It’s draining our tight resources and damaging our national heritage and international image,’ he continued.
Mr Flynn noted that the governments of Northern Ireland and Wales have committed to badger vaccination.
Featured photo by Jaroslav Vogeltanz –
Badgers are a protected species in Ireland. 97,000 badgers have been culled since 1985.
The graph below shows the effect badger culling has had on reactor numbers in Ireland from 1959 to 2012. Note that low reactor levels have been observed in years predating the culling programme where cattle measures alone produced low levels. The reduction in TB since 1999 is a combination of the fact that TB was anomalously high in 1998-1999 and that two new tests have been rolled out nationally which have undoubtedly hastened the removal of infected animals from chronic TB herds.
The information on compensation for removing infected milk cows is taken from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s booklet ‘Compensation Arrangements for TB and Brucellosis ‘Important Information for Herdowners/Keepers January 2013