Snaring badgers fails to control TB in Ireland

The Republic of Ireland’s policy of setting up to 6,000 snares for badgers every night[1] is failing to eradicate bovine TB, the Badger Trust and Badgerwatch Ireland revealed today.

Instead, the two charities have blamed the bovine TB problem on widespread law-breaking by farmers. A massive 15% of on-the-spot inspections of farmers in 2006 resulted in penalties for breaching the rules on cattle identification and registration, and the notification of cattle movements and deaths[2].

On the eve of a two-day Government public relations exercise, aimed at justifying the extermination of badgers in Ireland[3], the two conservation charities have challenged Ireland’s badger-killing vets to explain why they have not published their critique of British research in Nature.

Dr Richard Yarnell, chief executive of the Badger Trust, commented: “Research in Britain has shown that badger killing can make no meaningful contribution to controlling bovine TB in cattle[4]. This research has been published in the world’s leading, peer-reviewed, multi-disciplinary journals, including Nature[5].

“But rather than following scientific protocol and challenging the British results in Nature, where Irish claims would be subject to vigorous, multi-disciplinary, peer-review, they have instead opted for a non-peer-reviewed ‘Viewpoint’ piece in the Veterinary Record[6].

“Ireland’s badger-killing vets must own up: did they submit their challenge to Nature and have it rejected, or not? The credibility of their research is at stake and we must be told.”

The UK and Irish badger conservation charities have today published a graph which reveals that despite a merciless policy of badger snaring, the number of bovine TB reactor cattle in Ireland has remained at around 24,000 animals a year for three consecutive years[7]. As a proportion of Ireland’s national herd, this is almost twice the proportion of animals slaughtered in Britain[8].

The graph also reveals that a 42% reduction in bovine TB, claimed to be the result of exterminating badgers in the so-called Four Areas Study in Ireland[9], is remarkably similar to the national reduction in bovine TB over the same period.

During this time, a wide range of cattle-based TB-control measures were introduced in Ireland. The graph reveals that the steepest reductions in bovine TB reactors took place following the introduction of gamma interferon testing, the anamnestic ELISA test and improved cattle monitoring.

Professor Simon More oversees the studies which supposedly justify the extermination of badgers. He has argued that “cattle to cattle transmission is not responsible for many of the herd-breakdowns in Ireland”[10]. On 9 October, he will be presenting a ‘critical review’ of the British science. Members of Britain’s Independent Scientific Group have not been invited to hear the review and respond to the claims made.

Dr Yarnell commented: “In 2006, 15% of spot-checked farmers were breaking the law on a host of cattle regulations, giving ample opportunity for cattle to cattle transmission. In addition, the fragmented nature of farmland in Ireland[11] increases the likelihood of nose-to-nose contact between different herds. Indeed, whilst TB strains show clear evidence of clustering in cattle herds[12], there is negligible clustering in badgers in Ireland and, moreover, no correlation between TB strains in cattle and in badgers within two or even five kilometers of those cattle[13].”

Bernie Barrett from Badgerwatch Ireland said: “Not surprisingly, the Department for Agriculture has never press-released the extent to which farmers are found to be breaching cattle regulations in spot checks. Instead, agriculture minister Mary Coughlan actually went to Europe in April 2007 to ask that farmers should be given 14 days’ warning of inspections. Wisely, Europe refused.

“Irish farmers were fined Euros 700,000 (Sterling 484,000) in 2006 for breaking the law, but that pales into insignificance against the millions that Irish tax payers have handed over to farmers for TB breakdowns that are mostly due to cattle-to-cattle spread. The Government is supposed to be running the country, but when it comes to farming the countryside seems to be running the Government.”


1. Coughlan, M. (2007). “Written Answers.” Debates of the Houses of the Oireachtas 632(4).
2. Dineen, Maeve, (2007) Farm inspections a tough nut to crack. Farming Independent. 12 June 2007. Of 7,514 farmers subject to spot check, 1,109 (15%) were penalised for breaking regulations on cattle identification and registration, and for breaches of movement and death notifications. A further 977 (13%) were let-off for tagging and traceability breaches under a ‘tolerance regime’.
3. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF), Information Seminar on Bovine TB (9-10 October 2007), Carlton Hotel, Dublin Airport.
4. Bourne, F. J., C. A. Donelly, et al. (2007). “Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence.” Independent Scientific Group Reports Final Report.
5. Donnelly, C. A., R. Woodroffe, et al. (2005). “Positive and negative effects of widespread badger culling on tuberculosis in cattle.” Nature; and: Woodroffe, R., C. A. Donnelly, et al. (2006). “Culling and cattle controls influence tuberculosis risk for badgers.” PNAS Applied Biological Sciences 103(40): 14713-14717.
6. More, S. J., T. A. Clegg, et al. (2007). “Does reactive badger culling lead to an increase in tuberculosis in cattle?” Veterinary Record 161: 208-209.
7. Coughlan, M. (2004). “MINISTER COUGHLAN WELCOMES IMPROVEMENTS IN DISEASE LEVELS.” Press release; and: MacConnell, S. (2007), TB Badger cull to continue despite doubts, 25 June 2007, Irish Times.
8. Lawson, T. (2007). “Ireland’s Bloody Shame.” A special report by the Badger Trust, Badger Trust Cymru and Badgerwatch Ireland.
9. Published research has claimed TB reductions in the likelihood of a herd breakdown of 60-96% (e.g. Griffin, J. M., D. H. Williams, et al. (2005). “The impact of badger removal on the control of tuberculosis in cattle herds in Ireland.” Preventive Veterinary Medicine 67(4): 237-266. However, Professor John Bourne has advised that an as yet unpublished reanalysis of the Irish data indicates a reduction of around 42% (Bourne, J., Oral evidence to the Welsh Assembly’s Rural Development Sub-Committee, 20 September 2007).
10. Directorate-General, European Commission; Health and Consumer Protection Report on the Task Force Meeting of the Bovine Tuberculosis Sub-Group, Kilkenny, Ireland, 9-10 June 2004. (DG(SANCO)/10605/2004) (2004).
11. More S (2006), Farm investigations, Tuberculosis Investigation Unit Biennial Report, 77-78.
12. Olea-Popelka F, Flynn O, Costello E, McGrath G, Collins D, O’Keeffe J, Kelton DF, Berke O, & Martin SW (2005) Preventive Veterinary Medicine 71, 57-70.
13. Olea-Popelka F, Griffin J, Collins D, McGrath G, & Martin SW (2003) Preventive Veterinary Medicine 59, 103-111.