Bovine TB in Ireland and how it compares to that in the UK

Here’s a website about bovine tuberculosis (bTB). The unnamed author says, ‘My motivation comes from wanting to create a web site which informs rather than one which tries to influence opinion. As such I try not to hold back any information which I think is relevant and I try to present information without bias.’ I like this attitude.

When you ‘present information without bias’ you’re not acting like a journalist. You don’t try to make a neat story from the info you have. So anybody seeking a soundbite won’t find it on bovinetb.info but you’ll find plenty of detail there.

For example, here’s a recent article on that site called ‘Bovine TB in Ireland and how it compares to that in the UK’. I read this because I’ve noticed that, when people speak out for a cull of badgers (Meles meles) here in the UK, they often mention Ireland.

In case you don’t know: the Irish Republic is also called Southern Ireland. It’s part of the European Union (EU). Most of the island of Ireland is in the Republic while the smaller section of the island, called Northern Ireland, is part of the United Kingdom (UK).

It’s worth reading the whole article about Irish bTB. If you don’t want to do that, you could look at this paragraph that I picked out from it.

‘In 2012, the proportion of cattle slaughtered due to TB in the Irish Republic became less than half the proportion of cattle slaughtered due to TB in Northern Ireland. Although this situation existed between 2002 and 2004, this difference has increased over the last 2 years. Also in 2002 to 2004, unlike now, incidence in Northern Ireland may have been subjected to temporary high incidence levels due to relocation of TB-infected cattle after Foot and Mouth. If this gap continues to grow, it will become increasing likely that this difference is due to the badger culling policy which the Irish Republic have been increasingly investing in since the mid nineties. This will be interesting because (as details show below) the Irish Republic are implementing a very localised badger culling policy which in England and Wales would be expected to introduce significant perturbation of infected badgers.’

I like this author’s caution. I’m not a journalist but here’s a soundbite. ‘If this gap [in cattle slaughtering, comparing the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland] continues to grow, it will become increasing likely that this difference is due to the badger culling policy [in] the Irish Republic.’

There’s no proof but I can see why some people think we should do as the Irish do. I think also that the Irish story about bTB isn’t simple.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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14 Responses to Bovine TB in Ireland and how it compares to that in the UK

  1. Finn says:

    Hello Sam, any plans to post on why vaccination of the cattle is not an option? It seems to my naive viewpoint the best way to protect everyone concerned.

    • argylesock says:

      It’s because, with the current vaccine, vaccinated cattle seroconvert. Then the skin test doesn’t distinguish them from naturally infected cattle. Therefore vaccinated cattle are reactors.

      Under current law, TB reactors aren’t acceptable for export. I can understand that part when there are several countries on the Continent where TB-free status is proudly guarded.

      So really, the rules about bTB have a lot to do with farmers’ wish to export their cattle. As my partner (a retired farmer as you know) points out, farmers are businesspeople. They farm to make money.

      If a different vaccine or a different screening test becomes available, I suppose that problem might disappear. I mean the problem of vaccinated cattle being reactors. Not the problem of farmers making money! My partner did well in farming and here we are in a nice house.

      But it’s not obvious to me how a change to the vaccine or the screening test could happen. Both rely on specific acquired immunity, for every disease I can think of including bTB.

      Another approach could be to change the law. I linked yesterday to an article, by a farming couple in Gloucestershire, saying that the current EU policy is outdated http://www.badgergate.org/guest-articles/change-outdated-cattle-policies/

  2. M.James says:

    Vaccinating cattle and badgers does not stop either spreading zTB to other mammals.
    BCG ‘might’ reduce size of lesions and number of bacteria shed – it neither cures, nor prevents zTB even in the human population.

  3. M.James says:

    Hi, in case you haven’t found what you need online here is an article if that’s any help

    http://bovinetb.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/bcg-vaccination-cattle.html

  4. Pingback: Shoot badgers? Vaccinate badgers? How about not blaming badgers? | Science on the Land

  5. eatswombats says:

    > If this gap continues to grow, it will become increasing likely that this difference is due to the badger culling policy which the Irish Republic have been increasingly investing in since the mid nineties.

    In fact if this gap continues to grow it will become increasingly likely that the difference is due to the rigorous controls on the movement of cattle in the RoI combined with a vastly more rigorous testing regime for bTB. There are many important differences in how bTB is recorded on either side of the border (which is, of course, not recognised by badgers). The culling of badgers in the Republic has been identified by the comptroller general as one of the worst wastes of taxpayers’ money, as it is in the UK.

  6. ssimples says:

    The graph shown in the following link clearly states the expenditure of taxpayers’ money and the graph lines clearly illustrate how TB has changed in New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain in terms of both TB restricted herds and number of slaughtered cattle.

    http://www.bovinetb.info/graphs/graph168_relative-cost-and-impact-of-wildlife-control.php

    Please note that out of these countries Great Britain experienced extremely low levels of TB in the early 80’s only to see it grow and exceed both levels in New Zealand and the Republic Ireland. This is an absolute disgrace. New Zealand has shown the world how to control TB and Great Britain has shown the world how to escalate it.

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