West Tyrone Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Sinn Féin MLA's take part in TB study visit

Published: 17 July, 2014

(l-r): Ian Milne, Oliver Mc Mullan & Declan Mc Aleer

(l-r): Ian Milne, Oliver Mc Mullan & Declan Mc Aleer

Sinn Féin members of the DARD committee took part in a field study visit to Co. Down on Wednesday morning to witness at first hand DARD's 'Test, Vaccinate or Release' (TVR) pilot scheme to tackle TB. The study has been in operation for almost 2 months and involves catching and testing live badgers for TB. The test positive ones are removed while the test negatives are vaccinated and released again. It is part of a 5 year pilot programme in a 100 sq km area of Co Down. The research project aims to reduce the transmission of TB to cattle. According to Oliver Mc Mullan MLA 'The approach taken by DARD is aimed at getting the maximum amount of scientific data possible in order to tackle bovine TB. This is in contrast to other parts of Ireland and in England where badgers are culled, while in Wales there is a blanket vaccine. 'The first year of the study is heavily focused on gathering baseline information such as the percentage of badgers that are actually infected. Small GPS devises can track badger movements and I was intrigued to learn that some of the badgers in the study travel up to 14kms in a 3 to 4 day period. 'Badgers are widely believed to be a source of spreading TB among herds but it appears that more scientific information is needed to establish the most effective method of addressing this. The TVR project will also increase the likelihood that several generations of badgers will build up immunity to bovine TB and over time reduce the risk to cattle. West Tyrone MLA Declan Mc Aleer added 'From witnessing the operation taking place, I was impressed with the professionalism of the DARD staff and the humane way that the badgers were treated. 'Basically, cages are set and bait is used to attract the badgers. DARD staff then check the cages at dawn and any badgers caught are sedated using an antibiotic which lasts for approximately 30 minutes. 'During that time, the badger is 'micro chipped', weighed and has its temperature recorded. In addition to this, mucus swabs are taken, blood sampled and the vaccine introduced. In the case of animals weighing over 8kg a small GPS tracking device is attached to monitor movement patterns. All of this data is electronically recorded and transmitted from the field to a centralised computer. 'By the time the 30 minutes had elapsed it was clear that the badger had started to come around again and was swiftly returned to the wild. The badger did not appear distressed in any way. The fact that the researchers have caught the same badgers on more than one occasion at the same location indicates that there were no adverse effects. Mid Ulster MLA Ian Milne said 'Just over 6% of herds in the north experience a TB breakdown in a 12 month period. This can devastate a farmer's livelihood and is also costly for the department. 'The TVR is a pioneering and innovative project and will no doubt prove to be an important element in the fight against Bovine TB. The initiative has already received considerable interest worldwide and I commend the Minister and her department for taking this approach'.