The bovine tuberculosis eradication scheme is carried out in full compliance with EU Directive 64/432 and the level of tuberculosis in cattle has reduced from 17% in 1955 to 0.3% in 2003. It is now accepted that the presence of an infected maintenance host, the badger, is a major constraint to the final eradication of tuberculosis from the national herd. A multidisciplined research programme involving staff from the Department, Teagasc and the universities is making significant progress in identifying improvements to the eradication programme. This research is driven by science.
Significant progress is also being made on the development of a vaccine strategy for the badger population. In this my Department and others are collaborating with scientific colleagues in the UK and New Zealand.
The present policy is scientifically based and kept under constant review. For instance, changes this year include a more focused contiguous herd testing policy, more use of the ancillary gamma interferon blood tests in target herds and a new enhanced computer system which will improve our analytical capacity. The results of the four-area study into the effect of local area badger removal will be published in the near future. This study is expected to confirm the results of the earlier east Offaly study which indicated a significant reduction in bovine tuberculosis levels following removal of badgers from an area. Under the PPF, a new wildlife unit has been established to focus on the TB blackspot areas of the country. The removal of badgers is carried out by trained staff and badger welfare is a major element in the working of the programme.