Deer potentially causing TB in cattle, says Coveney

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Irish Times 18/05/2015

Questions are being raised about whether deer spread tuberculosis (TB) in cattle following a study which showed that badgers – traditionally blamed for infecting herds – actively avoid cattle.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney raised concerns about the possibility of deer in Co Wicklow transmitting the disease after Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan appealed for an end to badger culling.

It follows the publication of a four-year study by TCD zoologists in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and the National Parks & Wildlife Service.

The study, which continues for another two years, found badgers travel long distances to avoid cattle.

Ms O’Sullivan said it was time to end the culling of badgers, much of it inhumane she claimed, when 80 per cent of the animals killed were perfectly healthy.

Mr Coveney said it was also inhumane that they had to slaughter cattle because they had TB “when we know that we can get the incidence of TB down”. The Minister said he wanted to get TB out of the national herd and out of the badger population, and the preferred way was vaccination.

He said: “We have other questions with regard to deer in Wicklow, for example. Are they spreading TB and if they are how can we manage that in a practical way?”

‘Humane cull’

“Can we have a targeted, humane cull to try to deal with killing off a disease that has bedevilled Irish agriculture for more than 50 years?”

His comments also follow the establishment of a national deer management forum and report which highlights the need to research the incidence of TB in deer and also calls for the testing of culled animals and other carcasses in high TB areas.

Mr Coveney said TB rates had fallen by almost 40 per cent since 2008 and was “at record low levels”, in both cattle and badgers.

He said that in Northern Ireland where badger removal “is not prioritised”, the TB rate was twice as high as in the Republic.