It will take 30 to 40 years of the current measures to eradicate bovine TB, according to the Department of Agriculture.
The Department’s deputy chief veterinary officer, Michael Sheahan, told the recent Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture discussion on the TB Eradication Programme that current measures, plus vaccination of badgers throughout the country will eventually eradicate TB over a long period.
“However, we think we could do better than that with additional measures, and we are talking to the stakeholders in the forum about what they might be,” said Mr Sheahan, referring to the TB stakeholder forum established this year by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, as part of his commitment to eradicating TB by 2030.
Bovine TB levels in the past three years are lower than since the programme started in the 1950s. “Since we started our badger programme in the late 1990s, the number of reactors has declined from 44,000 a year to our current levels of 16,000 to 18,000 reactors per year. The proportion of herds affected by TB has effectively halved in that time, which represents significant progress,” said Mr Sheahan. More than 96% of herds test clear in the annual test.
Vaccinating badgers is the latest development, following research showing it is more or less as effective as culling, to deal with TB transmission from badgers to cattle.
“While we were previously limited to culling badgers on 30% of the land area, there is no such restriction with vaccination. We will ultimately move to vaccinating the entire country,” said Mr Sheahan.
“However, we will still need to carry out culling in some areas in which there are particularly bad outbreaks of disease.”
Mr Sheahan said the herd incidence rate of TB is about 3.5%. “In the North, it is approximately 9%. The North does not have a badger culling programme.”
“There are significant parts along the west coast, including parts of Donegal, Mayo and Galway, and significant parts of Counties Waterford and Limerick that have very low levels of TB.”
Currently, Monaghan and parts of Cavan are the most significant large-scale problem area. “West Wicklow has been a particular problem,” said Mr Sheahan.