New vaccine could end badger culls
Early results from a massive badger TB vaccine trial covering thousands of farms could bring the mass culling of a protected species to an end.
Department of Agriculture officials hope this will be an alternative to the annual cull of 6,200 badgers.
"Culling isn't sustainable because if we keep going the badger population would definitely become extinct in parts of Ireland. So we can't be doing this in 10 years time, but hopefully we won't have to if we can show that the vaccine is at least as good as a targeted cull," said the Department's head of wildlife, James O'Keeffe.
"We don't need to eradicate the badger to eradicate TB, but all the big scientific studies here have shown that we have to address the disease reservoir in wildlife such as badgers," said the senior vet in the Department's TB unit, Margaret Good.
"We just have to get the level of disease in badgers down to a threshold. In some populations it can be as high as 45pc."
The first results of the vaccine trial stem from Longford where the method has been on test across a third of the county for the last four years.
Additional research is being carried out in Galway, north Cork, Monaghan, Tipperary and Waterford in a huge trial that covers 5pc of Ireland's farmland.
The areas were selected because they were 'insulated' by natural or man-made boundaries such as rivers or roads that allowed the researchers monitor the same badger populations over subsequent years.