Northern Ireland

Agriculture minister says badger cull is possibility

Image caption A cull of badgers across Northern Ireland is a possibility

The Department of Agriculture is not ruling out a badger cull in Northern Ireland to help control the spread of tuberculosis amongst cattle herds.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill is under growing pressure from farmers and her committee to consider a cull.

She said her department is carefully monitoring what is happening in England and the development of a vaccine.

The TB issue has come to a head because of a plan by DARD to reduce compensation for infected cattle.

The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) has accused the department of focusing on reducing costs while failing to produce a strategic plan to eradicate the disease.

The UFU said every year thousands of cattle are infected with TB and then slaughtered, only for restocked herds to be infected once again by badgers carrying the disease.

"DARD are being very selective by highlighting that their move to cut compensation is in response to concerns from the EU that compensation is not being reappraised as part of our control programme and is therefore putting money from the EU Veterinary Fund for this programme at risk," said UFU President John Thompson.

"Yet they are not meaningfully addressing one of the other EU requirements for our control programme that action is to be taken on wildlife."

Members of the assembly's agriculture committee have also voiced concerns about the department's handling of the TB issue.

The minister has responded by insisting that tackling TB in cattle is a key priority for her department.

Underlining the point, Mrs O'Neill said executive colleagues have now agreed to include a specific reference to TB eradication in the draft programme for government.

"The minister wants to build the evidence base to allow consideration of the role of further interventions in cattle and/or wildlife that could help to reduce TB as part of our eradication plan," said a DARD spokesperson.

"For example, interventions could relate to TB testing, cattle movement regime, biosecurity as well as interventions in badgers."

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