Our Environment Minister, Owen Paterson is very keen to always point out the Republic of Ireland’s success in combatting Bovine TB. The number of incidents has come down from 45,000 to 15,000 cases. Southern Ireland has been culling badgers since the early 1980s and the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson attributes these recent falls of the TB infection to the decline of wild badgers. The science on both sides of the debate is never clearly convincing although Owen Paterson is correct when he talks of the incidents in TB cattle being down. In 2013 15,600 animals tested positive in Southern Ireland compared to 45,000 in 1998 and these figures have been chosen specifically to champion the cause of the Environment Secretary to make the decline of TB as positive as possible. Just one year before in 1997 there were nearly 29,000 cases and the cattle population is lower now than in the late 1990s. The infected proportion of cattle of the whole Irish herd we could say that the rate of infection has fallen from 0.37% in 1997 to 0.25% in 2013, a far lesser impressive statistic. The fact remains that infected animals in Ireland has fallen to an all-time low.
The culling of badgers in The Republic of Ireland started in the early 1980s, but the evidence does not show us a consistent drop in Bovine TB cases until the 2000s. Tracking the decline of the badger population alongside these figures is never totally conclusive but what does remain clear, culling as early as 1984 in a fairly small way compared to later years does not substantiate into scientific measures to say that the culling of badgers is in anyway helpful in the eradicating of the disease.
The main argument in my humble opinion is, the province of Northern Ireland has never culled badgers but it has too seen an overall decline of Bovine TB in the last decade.
Northern Ireland proves to us that simple conclusions can never be brought to the fore as scientific evidence.
The outbreak of the foot and mouth disease suspended Bovine TB testing in 2001 and many culled herds were re-stocked without knowledge of the Bovine TB status of the replacement animals. This without doubt contributed to the increased geographic spread and incidents of Bovine TB in recent years. This historical evidence in the recent history of the farming industry government ministers go to great lengths not to mention when they talk of the spread of Bovine TB, and for me Owen Paterson clearly goes too far when he says the Irish experience provides the clear evidence that culling in Britain is the only way forward to combat the disease. This was also the opinion of the BBC Trust and have been so clearly biased in their reporting of the situation.
But with all the success of the Republic of Ireland or otherwise, it is heartening to hear that their intention is to replace badger culling with badger vaccination as soon as practically possible, and the scientists of Ireland are at the very forefront on research to oral vaccination.
With all our years of research into this problem it still cannot be categorically scientifically proven that badgers pass TB onto cattle or cattle pass TB onto badgers. A fact that I find quite remarkable. But until such times that it can be proven that badgers are solely responsible for the rise in Bovine TB throughout the British Isles then not one more drop of badger blood should be spilled on such a divisive issue.
Please take a look at my short film of a meeting of badgers deep within some Cotswold woodland.
A group of badgers having a meeting chaired by Daddy Cool