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Plan to cull NI badgers

31 July 2002 - BBC News Northern Ireland

Proposals for a scientific culling of badgers in certain parts of Northern Ireland, to see if it reduces the level of tuberculosis in cattle, have been welcomed by the province's chief veterinary officer.

Bovine TB has been on the increase in Northern Ireland for a number of years and it costs the government millions of pounds in compensation to farmers.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is to put the idea out to public consultation, and is proposing a number of measures to control the disease.

However, animal welfare groups have argued against a mass cull of the animals and said any plans must involve humane methods.

Similar schemes in England and the Republic of Ireland over the past 20 years have proved successful.

The chief veterinary officer for Northern Ireland, Bert Houston, said the culling of badgers in the Irish Republic could prove a useful model for the province.

"A study in east Offaly in the late 1980s involved the removal of badgers over a large area and the subsequent monitoring of Bovine TB in that area," he said.

"Over the following seven years, the incidence of Bovine TB was almost half that of the adjoining control areas.

"What we need to do is to trial it within Northern Ireland to discover if the same affects happens here."

Mr Houston said the proposals would involve a scientific trial to gain more information about the role of badgers in cattle TB and not an extensive widespread cull of the animals.

"Unfortunately we have to cull them in order to gather hard, firm, scientific data but a lot of important research will come out of this," added Mr Houston.

However, the Ulster Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals said it was disappointing there was still so much guesswork involved in determining whether badgers were responsible for Bovine TB.

"We are disappointed that at the turn of the century we are still having to test the situation to see what the truth is," said USPCA director Stephen Philpott.

"We are also concerned on what the methods would be to do this.

"In the past there have been some very unsavory methods used to cull badgers and obviously we will be talking to the department to see just how they are going to do that.

"If it is going to be a clear scientific study to prove once and for all definitively whether badgers contribute to Bovine TB or whether they don't, then certainly we would have to accept that argument that they will have to cull some animals to prove once and for all if that is the case."

"Our concern is the unnecessary suffering of animals, whether it be badgers or cattle and we will be watching this one closely and would like to think we could work and consult with the department on this."

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