CLARE IFA has called for the total removal of badgers from tuberculosis blackspots following the revelation that the county has the highest number of bovine reactors per 1,000 tests in Ireland.
Official figures obtained by The Clare Champion reveal that tuberculosis (TB) is on the increase in Clare herds since 2006. Of the 6,361 herds in Clare in 2006, 173 had to be restricted from selling at marts or private sales, apart from slaughter, following 1,342 reactors. It breaks down to 3.58 reactors per 1,000 tests.
The latest figures up to August 2009 show that 239 herds were restricted, with the number of reactors at 1,432, resulting in a tally of 5.22 reactors per 1,000 tests.
A league table provided by the Department of Agriculture confirmed that Clare has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of bovine reactors per 1,000. This compares to just 1.19 reactors per 1,000 in Kerry, 2.50 in Limerick, 3.20 in North Tipperary and 2.25 in Waterford.
While Ireland is now regarded as virtually brucellosis free, TB continues to remain high in Clare in recent years, despite the implementation of a national bovine eradication programme since 1954.
The high incidence of TB has prompted renewed calls for the retention of the Department of Agriculture offices in Ennis.
Clare IFA chairman, Michael Lynch, said Department of Agriculture staff in Ennis are very familiar with the problems affecting local farmers.
He added that they would be better equipped to deal with ongoing and new issues in Clare, compared with staff in Limerick, if a new regional office is to be established there to cater for Limerick, North Tipperary and Clare.
Mr Lynch expressed concern that badgers are allowed to roam freely throughout the county with full legal protection, despite the fact there is persistent evidence of badger infection in areas where the number of reactors are high.
Once infection is prevalent in an area, he warned that the risk of re-infection is increased by the presence of badgers.
“There are a number of tuberculosis problem areas throughout Clare. Without the total removal of badgers, which doesn’t have any natural predator in Ireland, from an area where infection is present, it will be very hard to eradicate this disease.
“A local Department of Agriculture office in Clare is needed because of the large number of herds and the different system of agriculture in the county. There is also a higher percentage of small herds in Clare compared to neighbouring counties,” he said.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Deputy Tony Killeen, pointed out that private vets carry out most of the testing for tuberculosis in Clare.
Where disease prevention is a problem, Deputy Killeen noted that all the interested parties implement an action plan.
Asked about the timing of the closure of the agriculture office in Ennis, Deputy Killeen said he had met a number of staff members who have put forward a number of proposals. He has also received suggestions from local and national public representatives concerning office closures throughout the country.
The Fianna Fáil deputy pledged that all proposals would be seriously considered and confirmed that he has been in regular contact with key department officials and Agriculture Minister Brendan Smyth on the matter.
Simon More at the Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis in UCD recently completed a study on the eradication of bovine TB in Ireland.
Mr More concluded that in order to eradicate TB from the cattle population, Ireland needs to sustainably control TB in badgers with which cattle may come in contact.
However, he acknowledged this presented significant challenges for scientists and policy-makers, including the international legal protection and national status afforded to badgers, the potential increase in badger numbers as a result of agricultural intensification, the close physical proximity of badgers and cattle and the high prevalence of infection among Irish badgers.
“Ireland is currently implementing a comprehensive strategy to address these challenges, whilst maintaining existing measures to control cattle-to-cattle transmission.
“In the short-term, the Department of Agriculture is implementing a national programme of wildlife control when and where wildlife are implicated in on-farm breakdowns of bovine TB,” the study stated.
“In these areas, badger removal will form the basis of temporary disease control by minimising contact between cattle and infected badgers and will also provide potential locations for vaccination trials.”
It stated that in the longer-term, there is a commitment to the implementation of a strategic programme of badger vaccination, with the aim to reduce bovis transmission between infected badgers and susceptible cattle.