Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA has questioned the confidence which is put in a Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) vaccine which has been decades in the development and which is still unlikely to be available for trial before the end of this decade.
During this week’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee meeting which was hearing evidence from the Northern Ireland Badger Group and the USPCA, the Ulster Unionist MLA questioned the wisdom of ‘research followed by research’ into the issue of eradicating bTB.
Mrs Dobson said: “Paperwork is not the best way to finally make Northern Ireland Tuberculosis free status. It appears that DARD wish to conduct never-ending research into reacting to the disease but without any effort being expended to actually do anything to eradicate it.
“I made the point at the Committee meeting that a vaccine which is not yet in circulation is not the best way of working towards the eradication of bTB. Farmers and the industry know the devastating effect which this disease is having on their rural businesses and they are rightly extremely frustrated at the total lack of priority given to this issue by DARD.
“In their submission to the Committee the Northern Ireland Badger Group stated that they believed that ‘ideally, vaccination of cattle offers the most direct and robust method of dealing with bovine TB in the herd.’ However, in an ideal world DARD would be working towards the eradication of bTB, and we know that they simply are not.
"Over the last 15 years DARD has spent in excess of £320 million on its bovine TB programme, despite this expenditure the number of herds with TB in Northern Ireland is still higher than it was in 1996.
“I believe we need to move from the ‘ideal’ to the ‘real’ world and towards eradication rather than continuing the cycle of decades of research. The continued slaughter of farm animals because they have contracted TB whilst the reservoir of TB in wildlife goes practically unmentioned is only perpetuating the cycle and represents a fundamental blight on DARDs record.
“I am once again calling for the Department to review their ‘strategy’ and to set an eradication target date and then work towards it. Without a set target I fear that DARD will continue its cycle of failure for years to come.”