UFU says holistic approach needed to tackle TB

Tuesday, 13 November, 2018

The Ulster Farmers’ Union says Northern Ireland needs to take a holistic approach to tackle bovine TB and use a number of different tools to eradicate this costly and devastating disease.

UFU deputy president, David Brown said, “For over 60 years TB has plagued the countryside. Any farmer who has had the misfortune of having TB in their herd can tell you, it is a dire experience. It can take months, sometimes years, to get rid of the disease. We want to see a comprehensive solution that delivers results and is cost effective.”

The UFU, along with many others in the industry including the British Veterinary Association (BVA), have long argued that to truly eradicate TB action must be taken to control the disease in wildlife as well as cattle. In 2017, 21 per cent of TB breakdowns were attributed to badgers and approximately 1 in 5 badgers in Northern Ireland are infected with TB, however, this is likely to be an underestimate.

Mr Brown said, “We know the disease can go from badger to cow, cow to cow, cow to badger, and back again. But the failure to tackle wildlife sources of infection has prolonged the presence of the disease. TB will not be eradicated in Northern Ireland unless there is a combined approach that delivers meaningful action to tackle TB in wildlife alongside controls in cattle.”

Mr Brown says vaccinating against TB is one option and while the UFU is supportive of the Test, Vaccinate, Remove (TVR) programme, it is costly and to date there is no evidence to suggest that vaccinating a proportion of the badger population results in a reduction of TB in cattle. “Farmers are pragmatic. We want to see a robust wildlife policy that is cost effective. TB has already cost tax payers and farmers too much.”

The Republic of Ireland (ROI) has made major strides in its work to eradicate TB and is decades ahead of Northern Ireland. “ROI made some tough decisions and it has paid off. Their approach has been to tackle TB from all sides, with a comprehensive strategy. The result is that they have reduced levels of TB in cattle and are now moving on to the next stage of their eradication plan. We would like to see a similar approach taken in NI. Farmers want to see an all-encompassing plan that is evidence based, robust, and delivers results,” said Mr Brown.