An animal welfare charity says Northern Ireland is sleepwalking towards a 'tragedy' if a proposed badger cull goes ahead.
The USPCA says the Department for Agriculture must rethink its plans to address Bovine TB amongst cattle.
“Bovine TB is a hideous disease and a scourge on our cattle population, devastating hard-working farmers and rural communities,” USPCA Chief Executive Nora Smith said.
“However, the eradication of this disease will not be brought about by a cull of badgers and in fact, the latest evidence from AFBI is clear that transmission of bovine TB is highest between cows.
“Buried in the AFBI report is the statistic that cattle-to-badger transmission could be 800 times greater than badger-to-cattle, which was practically negligible. The badger is neither the problem nor the solution to this dreadful disease.
“We also know from similar culls in England and the Republic of Ireland that they do not have the intended effect. There is no conclusive evidence to confirm that culling hundreds of thousands of badgers has helped reduce the bTB levels. In Wales, the levels of TB are reducing at a similar rate to that in England and they have not culled a single badger.
“Northern Ireland can do something better by reflecting on the latest scientific research and taking an evidence-based approach. In Wales for example the authorities have focussed on the movement of cattle, on testing, and biosecurity on farms. They have seen a marked reduction in bTB, while the badger population there remains intact. This is a working and successful model and in 2022, herd incidence fell faster in Wales than in England.
“If this badger cull proceeds, it will be the single biggest animal welfare tragedy of our generation, and it will happen on our watch.”
Statistics from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs show significant rises in TB levels in herds across Northern Ireland in recent months.
But the Department says no final decision has been made on whether a cull will be authorised.
“No final decision has yet been taken as to whether any cull will be authorised in Northern Ireland.
“Due to an ongoing Judicial Review the Department cannot commit to authorising any cull until that process is complete. In addition, any badger intervention will require legislation to be laid at the Assembly.
“The bovine TB Eradication Strategy for Northern Ireland which was launched last year, following extensive consultation with the farming industry, contains 21 actions. The aim of the Strategy is to tackle the ongoing high levels of TB incidence in Northern Ireland. International experience has shown that all factors involved in the maintenance and spread of this dreadful disease, including the role played by wildlife, must be addressed if we are to realise the ambition of a bTB free Northern Ireland.
“We continue to work in partnership with farmers and the farming industry, including the TB Eradication Partnership, to control and ultimately eradicate TB.”
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