It has been revealed to the Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann that over the last 5 years almost 1 in 6 of the 1,500 badgers that have been killed on local roads and collected by DAERA later tested positive for TB.
Robin Swann MLA said:
“TB is still blighting the local agricultural industry. The most recent DAERA figures show a ridiculously high incidence rate, and a notable increase from the same period only two years ago.
“The disease is costing over £40m a year in compensation and with testing costs. Of course that’s just the financial impact – the effect on individual farm units can be incalculable as herds are closed, sale plans turned upside down and key breeding cattle sometimes lost as reactors.
“For too long the disease has been allowed to spread and thrive unchallenged. I have long believed that badgers play a key role in the spread of the disease but because they are a protected species, controlled culling or disturbing them for TB control purposes remains against the law in Northern Ireland.
“Even the European Commission's bTB sub-group, which comprises veterinary experts from across the EU have stated in the past that there was ‘considerable evidence to support the removal of badgers in order to improve the TB status of both badgers and cattle.’
“Whilst England is moving steadily towards their target of officially bovine TB free status by 2038 – with specific badger culling playing a key part in their efforts - such a goal still sounds like a pipedream for Northern Ireland.
“It’s around this time of year when it’s most obvious just how common and widespread badgers are - they are a common sight on the road verges.
“DAERA actively encourage members of the public who have seen a dead badger to contact their so-called ‘badger mobile’.
“After writing to the Department I sought answers as to how many badgers were collected and then tested for TB.
“I have now been informed that over the last five years there were 1,776 badgers collected with 1,505 subsequently tested. Shockingly, 248 tested positive for TB – that’s an incidence rate of 16.5%, or 1 in every 6 badger tested.
“This is very significant as it confirms once and for all that there is a significant prevalence of the disease in the local badger population.
"I sought the figures broken down by local divisional veterinary office (DVO) areas and it also confirmed that the area where the highest number of infected badgers were collected is actually the DVO with the highest annual herd TB incidence rate – Newtowards. There were 353 reported and tested roadkill badgers in that area, with 64 positive for TB. The local herd incidence rate was almost 13%.
“Similarly the area with the fewest reported roadkill badgers – Londonderry and Strabane which had just 46 carcases, had just 4 badgers found to be infected - has the lowest TB incidence rate with just 4.4% of local herds.
“Whilst the Department have told me that the figures do not confirm a link between the distribution of infection in badgers and the local cattle incidence rates, it is my understanding that in the past a higher proportion of herds within 3km of an infected badger carcase had TB compared to those within 3 km of a negative carcase and that the Department had considered difference as statistically significant.
“Incidence rates of bTB continue to rise and right now nothing is being done to tackle it. Finding a workable solution is absolutely necessary and in my opinion that has to involve tackling the prevalence of the disease in the local badger population.
“It is maddening to not only me, but the wider industry, that in the ongoing absence of an Executive and local Minister nothing at all is being done to tackle the disease. It was this time last year when DAERA launched a major public consultation on a range of proposals to supposedly work towards the eradication of bovine TB. But a year later, because there’s no Minister in place, not even the sensible and uncontroversial ideas can be advanced. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”