Agriculture/Animal Welfare, Dáil Issues, Dáil Work, Oral Questions

Questions to the Minister on live animal exports and the culling of badgers; unfortunately not selected for discussion at Minister’s questions today, but Clare will continue to push the issues and will be joining ARAN for their protest against live animal exports on May 27th.

QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the continued culling of badgers and the impact on the badger population; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 14th May, 2015.

Ref No: 18655/15

REPLY

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine : (Simon Coveney)

In my earlier response to Deputy O’Sullivan, I outlined the underlying reason for introducing the badger removal programme, which was in response to research, which showed that badger removal had a significant beneficial impact on the risk of future breakdowns, with areas where badgers were not removed being some 14 times at greater risk than badger removal areas.

Capturing of badgers only takes place in areas where serious outbreaks of TB have been identified in cattle herds and where Department veterinarians have found, following an epidemiological examination, that badgers are the likely source of infection. Badgers are removed in accordance with the conditions of a licence issued by the Department, Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht under the 1976 Wildlife Act which requires that the total area under capture is maintained below 30% of agricultural area in the country. Approximately 6,000 badgers are culled annually by trained contractors and the process is monitored and supervised by Department staff. Research conducted within UCD has shown that damage or injury to captured badgers is absent or minimal and is lower than with other capture methodologies. Finally, I should point out that the Council of Europe has found that Ireland’s badger population is not being threatened by the removal programme.

In tandem with the badger removal programme, my Department continues to sponsor research and trials into developing a vaccination programme to control Tuberculosis in badgers, thus improving the overall health status of that species, and breaking the infection link to cattle. The research to date has demonstrated that oral vaccination of badgers in a captive environment with BCG vaccine generates high levels of protective immunity against bovine TB. Current research is aimed at confirming that such a protective effect holds true in the wild population.

My Department’s ultimate objective is to incorporate badger vaccination into the TB eradication programme when data is available to ensure that it can be incorporated in an optimally effective and sustainable manner. A number of field trials are ongoing with this objective in mind, but it is anticipated that it will be a number of years before a viable oral delivery method can be put in place and, therefore, targeted badger removals will continue in the medium term in the interests of ensuring that the progress achieved in recent years in combating TB in cattle is maintained.

It is also notable that there has been a significant improvement in the disease situation in Ireland both in the cattle and badger populations since the badger removal programme was put on a more structured footing in 2004. The incidence of TB in cattle has fallen by almost 40% since 2008 and is currently at record low levels. It is particularly interesting that the incidence of TB in Northern Ireland, where badger removal is not practised, is approximately twice as high as on this side of the Border.


QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to restrict live exports from Ireland, particularly to countries with little or no animal welfare regulation; and if he will make a statement on the matter

– Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 14th May, 2015

Ref No: 18654/15 Lottery: 29 Proof: 29

REPLY

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine : (Simon Coveney)

I have no plans to restrict live exports from Ireland. My Department maintains an environment in which live exports can continue in an economic and sustainable manner with due regard for the welfare of animals. In this context, Ireland has a comprehensive legislative framework in place for some time to ensure that vessels authorised for the carriage of livestock by sea are designed and fitted out in a manner which ensures the welfare of the animals. My Department operates a strict licensing system in respect of ships who undertake this trade and continues to work closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health ( OIE) to ensure that welfare standards are raised internationally. The OIE is the intergovernmental organisation responsible for improving animal health worldwide.

Live exports are a vital component of Ireland’s livestock industry and provide alternative market outlets for certain categories of livestock, thereby serving a market demand and providing increased competition in the market place for cattle. My Department has no jurisdiction in relation to standards of slaughter plants in other countries. However, it does support ongoing efforts by the OIE, to improve welfare standards at slaughter plants worldwide.

I should also point out that, should live exports from Ireland or the EU to third countries be banned, it would not necessarily mean that exports of cattle to that country would cease. Sourcing would take place elsewhere, and could involve the shipment of cattle under conditions less exacting than those existing under Irish law.