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More than 10,000 people have signed a petition against a proposed badger cull in Northern Ireland.
The Department of Agriculture (Daera) has put forward the plan for a cull as part of a strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (TB).
Launching the consultation earlier this year, Daera minister Edwin Poots said TB in cattle costs the taxpayer up to £40m a year.
He described his department’s plans as far-reaching and based on science, adding: “Doing nothing is not an option.”
This morning USPCA Chief Executive Brendan Mullan spoke to @bbcradioulster, regarding the proposed badger cull in #NI. Listen again via the link below ⏩ 20 mins in 👉https://t.co/8Nx6DI0sZr pic.twitter.com/wrX4l9KTbX
— USPCA Official (@USPCA_Official) September 9, 2021
The USPCA petition is to be brought to the Stormont Assembly on Tuesday.
The charity’s chief executive Brendan Mullan said the current proposals from Daera do not take account of the emerging science around tackling the disease.
“We extend our thanks to those who have stood in solidarity with us to oppose this disproportionate, inhumane and unjustifiable proposal to cull healthy badgers,” he said.
“Bovine TB is an intractable disease which requires investment in new approaches and emerging science if it is to be effectively controlled and eradicated.
“The current proposals lack the adoption of emerging science with regard to tackling the disease and appear to be primarily cost-driven – suggesting a reduction in farm compensation, when in fact, more support is required for farmers to adequately respond to the bio-security challenges of the disease, and also proposing the controlled shooting of badgers, as it is the cheapest option for a wildlife intervention; despite the fact that four out of five badgers do not suffer from bovine TB.”
Alliance MLA John Blair, who chairs the Assembly’s All Party Group on Animal Welfare, said the response to the petition shows the strength of feeling on the matter.
“I welcome the public backing for the petition opposing the proposed widespread culling of badgers, as part of a strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis from Northern Ireland,” he said.
“The huge response shows the strength of feeling on this issue. The suggestion of needless slaughter of healthy badgers is contrary to public opinion and this petition is evidence of that.”
Jennifer Fulton, Ulster Wildlife chief executive, said the Test, Vaccinate or Remove approach (TVR) is their clear preference.
“Over a five-year period, this pilot carried out by Daera proved to be effective in reducing the incidence of the disease from 14% to 2% within the badger population in a TB hotspot,” she said.
“This would remove infected badgers humanely, as bovine TB is a very debilitating disease for wildlife, as well as cattle. The disease is challenging for farmers and the reduction in compensation for cattle proposed in the consultation would be very difficult for farm families. We are not supportive of this action.
“The additional cost of TVR, relative to controlled shooting, equates to less than 50p per person per year for the NI population.
“This would deliver an intervention that is ethical, proportionate and effective. We now ask our elected representatives to give careful thought and consideration to what type of future they want to see for Northern Ireland and its wildlife, in the midst of a nature crisis.”
Mike Rendle, from the Northern Ireland Badger Group, said: “We are very encouraged by the strong public support for our campaign.
“The issue of bovine TB has generated much debate within the animal protection and farming communities and this highlights the belief that no-one’s interests are being well served by these proposals.
“We appreciate the hardship experienced by farmers suffering the consequences of herd breakdowns, however this will only be heightened as a cull will not deliver the reduction in disease promised by Daera.
“Five years down the line, the effects of compensation cuts for farm animals lost to bTB will be felt severely by these rural households.
“To allow the shooting of badgers on this scale to take place is an affront to the very laws we have established to protect this species. We’re calling on Daera to abandon this proposal and instead work with us to progress a humane, evidence-led TB strategy.”
A spokesperson for Daera said: “The public consultation on the proposed next steps to deliver a new TB Eradication Strategy for Northern Ireland closed on September 10 with over 3,300 responses received.
“The Department welcomes the high level of public engagement on this important matter.
“Officials are currently considering and analysing the responses and preparing final advice to Minister Poots.”
“Following consideration of the public’s views and the scientific advice, the minister will decide on the way forward and seek Executive colleagues’ endorsement of his chosen approach.”