There is no evidence that deer play a significant role in transmitting TB to cattle in most of the country outside Wicklow, according to the Department of Agriculture.
“Outside Wicklow, there just is not the evidence that deer are playing a role in transmitting to cattle at significant levels,” said senior supervisory veterinary inspector Eoin Ryan, when Department officials took part in a recent Oireachtas committee on agriculture discussion on the tb eradication programme.
“I am not saying it does not happen at all, but we have to try to base our policies on the evidence and the risks.
“For example, in the past 18 months, we have tested in our regional veterinary laboratories 74 wild deer from across the country. Only three of those 74 animals had TB.”
He said that of 39 wild deer tested in Kerry in the past year and a half, only one had TB. And 16 deer from Co Clare were tested recently and none had TB.
In Tipperary, the department recently tested three deer, none of which had TB.
“Most land in Wicklow is not farmed, farmers are not the majority landowners, and there is a huge deer population.”
In a department-funded research project in Co Wicklow, 16% of deer shot had TB, and the same strains of TB were circulating in cattle, badgers and deer.
The department is facilitating farmers and hunters in Wicklow who want to shoot deer and reduce deer numbers. “This has been working quite well, and a tender was signed off some months ago to renew it and extend it across Wicklow,” said Mr Ryan.
“Where there are local concerns among farmers that deer may be a factor, we are happy to test deer, if farmers want to co-ordinate locally, get the deer shot, and submit them to a regional veterinary laboratory.
We will test them for free and pass that information on.
“If evidence comes to light that there is some part of the country where deer are playing a significant role in spreading TB to cattle, we will be happy to support measures to address that.
“Farmers can take steps to reduce the numbers of deer.
“It is difficult for a single farmer to do so, of course.
“They can shoot them and, if it is out of season, they can apply to the National Parks and Wildlife Service for a section 42 licence, but it is more effective if they co-ordinate locally across an area.
“This is the approach that has been taken in Wicklow, involving the farm organisations, and we are happy for that approach to be taken elsewhere.
“Even within Wicklow, it is not clear which species is transmitting to which.